The data centre as the new information hub: A tour of Volta’s DC

By Neil Ainger | 22 July 2013

Once upon a time the home of a press agency would have been considered the quintessential information hub of the modern age but a photograph of its headquarters would now be a black and white photo’d nostalgia trip. I visited the old Reuters building in Great Sutton Street in the City of London last month - once such a sepia-toned hub - but it is now a data centre (DC) owned by Volta, writes Neil Ainger, and is a very different 21st century information hub. it is poised to be reborn processing low-latency trades and other data as it comes fully on stream in Q3 this year.

I went on a tour of Volta’s new 8,500 square metre refurbished data centre (DC) at the old Reuters building on Great Sutton Street in the City of London last month prior to its official unveiling in September 2013. As I toured the refurbished DC building, which can now house at least 6,000 servers on the edge of the City of London conurbation of banks and financial institutions in the square mile (reducing execution latency times), the thought struck me that this is truly the new information hub of the 21st century. As I looked at the technical staff completing the cabling, electricity buzz bars and fit-out of the facility before its lock-down the impression grew that data centres are truly the new information nerve centres of the modern age.

The chillers on the roof of the Great Sutton Street facility, dynamic cooling system and huge V16 business continuity generators - with their exhaust pipes looking like something from a monster truck - were the new technological face of fast information technology. The new London DC should also have a resilient power supply thanks to its connection to two separate 33kv substations via UK Power Networks and its £80m worth of private investment money. Already connectivity partners, such as Custom Connect are moving in to offer microwave options to cut the speed of execution available to trading firms thanks to its City-based located, still further.

“We are expecting at least 300 co-location and other end use firms to move into the new data centre,” explained Julian King, commercial director of Volta, who added that some are already relocating as the fit-out nears completion. “The majority will be financial services (FS) firms taking advantage of our location, although the facility is open to everyone [so media and technology firms hoping to be near the developing ‘silicon roundabout / tech city’ enclave around Old Street in London are also welcome].”

The new Volta Great Sutton Street facility also has a Power usage Effectiveness (PuE) rating of 1.5. This metric, developed by the Green Grid, is considered to be a useful metric of the efficiency of a data centre measuring the amount of extra cooling power required to chill a facility versus the power coming out of it, with 1 as the ultimate efficiency. “A lot of facilities have claimed a PuE of 2 in the past but this may have been somewhat optimistic,” said King during my tour of the Volta DC. “This data centre has state-of-the art dynamic cooling, cold/hot air aisle arrangements, chillers on the roof and all the latest equipment to ensure a better PuE rating.”

Black and White
Never mind the building’s past life as a centre for journalists to feed their reports back to Reuters, the Great Sutton Street facility’s new life as a data centre reflects what’s happened to information in the 21st century in that it has increasingly become a data driven, automated and excessively fast tool. Fast data is now used to gain alpha in trades and business to a degree that would’ve shocked the old City traders waiting for the latest news of a trading ship returning to port. The speed principle is the same but the timeframe has been speeded up so that it is now pushing up against the laws of physics.

The centrality of data centres, algos and latency in the modern FS world [see the bobsguide TradeTech Europe 2013 show report for more on this latency issue -Ed] means that co-location and proximity to execution engines at trading venues has never been more important. Having one that has two 33kv electricity feeds is highly unusual, however, as is one situated in the centre of the UK capital and trading hub of the City of London. Such facilities are usually located on the edge of town as Equinix’s western Slough data centre ‘campus’ is and NYSE Euronext’s huge Basildon facility in Essex, UK, to the east of London. The same pattern is obvious in the New York trading technology conurbation as well, with many DCs located in New Jersey rather than Manhattan where rents are high and space is limited. Smaller facilities such as Volta’s can be located closer into the centre of town.

The squeeze on available locations in central London is easing somewhat as well, after last year’s 2012 Olympic Games in London, which placed a capacity constraint on the electricity supply as broadcasters around the world demanded their share. This temporary constraint on DCs closer to the centre of town is now gone and some London DCs within the M25 ring road surrounding the UK capital are once more becoming available.

Other new London DCs Opening post-Olympics: Infinity iCITY
Infinity, for instance, opened a new data centre in the old Olympic park as part of the iCITY facility managed by the post-Olympics London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). The old press and broadcasting centre at the 2012 Olympic park in East London will also host BT Sport as the British telecoms firm attempts to break into the TV sports market with its rights to televise 38 Premier League football games during the 2013-2014 season, alongside the new DC from Infinity, which can house other media firms and trading firms.

The location of Infinity’s new DC is also quite close to the City of London FS hub in central London, so is a potential rival facility to the Great Sutton St DC as it comes on stream. The fight for tenants and property space in the packed city looks set to be as tough as ever. Indeed it could be said to be almost Olympian in its intensity.

 

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