City of power

City of power

At just 24 years of age, you might be surprised to hear that Michael Tran is building one of the world’s largest high-density datacentres. You probably wouldn’t expect it to be in Queensland either. He recently told ARN about his grand design for a Data Centre City.

Where did you get the idea for Data Centre City?

Michael Tran (MT): We decided to take a new approach to designing and building datacentres by going to this high-density model. I’ve been in the datacentre space for six years and we were running out of power and space. It’s a global problem. Being an early adopter people have been fairly critical of what we’re doing but somebody always has to take the fi rst step and we’re proud to do that in Australia. At the end of the day it’s all about what’s available on the market – you’re now seeing a single blade server that has greater capacity than most datacentres have in a rack.

Why have people been critical?

There are two factors. Firstly, a lot of people say that chip sizes are getting smaller and they’re using less power so shouldn’t we be dropping power in the datacentre. In answer to that, 80 per cent of computing power is used by all the other resources on the motherboard rather than the processor itself. Just because chips are getting more efficient doesn’t mean the whole system is. At the end of the day there’s a cycle – density increases and we put pressure on the chip manufacturers to reduce the amount of power; they do that but the people who build the machines just shove more of them in.

The second criticism has been the size of the centres we’re building – people are questioning whether Brisbane is the right place to build what is potentially the world’s densest datacentre – but you have to look at Australia as an independent country that needs to be self-sufficient with our resources. We want to encourage the big dotcoms to come to Australia and use a local facility that meets all of their requirements. They don’t want to build big datacentres here because they don’t understand the environmental conditions.

So who do you see as the customer base?

We have a couple of vertical markets that we’re targeting – medical is seen as one of the biggest users of IT within the next few years; education is also something we want to focus on because you have a lot of archival storage and you need a lot of upfront processing power.

Those things aside, we want to take in the big dotcoms and the big hosting providers. We’ve done a lot of research in the background market and are getting a lot of other datacentres asking if they can use the facilities. It’s an interesting dynamic as an early adopter because you shake up the industry.

Tell us about your background. You seem very young to be building and managing major datacentre facilities.

I went from Web-hosting to co-location in about 15 months and very quickly started to question the space we were in. We were getting random downtime, hearing excuses from datacentres about why they were down, and it was getting difficult for us to run a business. Then we started running into the problems of running out of space and needing more power. From there I took a big step towards the medical industry and, in the five years I’ve been doing the backbone of IT in medical, we’ve seen it go from a scenario where it’s great if it’s online but we can survive if it’s not to really becoming a mission-critical application. Since it has become mission-critical we’ve seen a complete redesign and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in upgrading datacentres and even creating new ones for many health facilities. About three years ago, my business partner and I really became serious about designing a new type of datacentre.

Can you give us some idea of the scale of Data Centre City?

We are looking at five buildings with each one powered by 36 megawatts (MW) of load capacity, the floor space is being designed to 25kW per rack, which equates to roughly 6500 Watts per square metre. It’s a full tier-four rated facility with dual path redundancy. Each of the buildings will have between 320 and 640 cabinets across the fl oor space so the final Data Centre City will have about 3200 racks.

We realised that big dotcoms or government departments don’t want to be housed in the same section as somebody else and the best section you can get is your own building. Putting five buildings in one spot means we can bring in big power feeds and Internet connections but keep the buildings completely independent of each other because they have their own transformer, power and cooling stations. We also have the ability to reroute power from one of the other buildings if it goes down for any reason.

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