When is a data centre truly vendor-neutral? Does it really matter?

July 29th, 2015, Published in Uncategorised articles


When Teraco opened the doors of its first data centre in Cape Town in 2010 the company claimed to be the first vendor-neutral data centre in South Africa. Since then the industry has seen other data centres claiming to be vendor-neutral. It raises the question, if a telco opens a data centre and provides connectivity to other telcos, can it really claim to be vendor-neutral when the company itself is a vendor?

Teraco recently updated its status when the company announced that it is Africa’s only vendor neutral data centre. Michele Mc Cann, Teraco’s business development manage says that vendor neutral means that right from the top, from the boardroom level and shareholding, the company must be vendor neutral if it wants to claim this position. “We are, and we are the only one in Africa”, she said.

Michelle McCann

Michelle McCann

The question however is whether it really does matter. Mc Cann believes it does. “We are not involved in selling ISP and other internet services. We provide a secure, air-conditioned colocation space supplied with secure power and interconnection to all tear 1 Telco.s and international peering through NAP Africa.”

NAPAfrica is a neutral, layer 2 Internet eXchange (IX) point, located within each of the Teraco data centre facilities in South Africa. Instead of costly multiple direct links to different providers, a single peering point allows multiple networks and ISPs to interconnect using an exchange environment.

As the local telecommunications market began to deregulate, Teraco’s founders recognised an opportunity for a truly vendor neutral data centre offering in South Africa.  The possibility of providing a service that was not tied to any Carrier or ISP became not only technically feasible and economically viable, but increasingly desirable to South African enterprises which needed unrestricted choice in how they interconnected their facilities and connected to the Internet. Today Teraco manages colocation data centres in Cape Town, Durband and Johannesburg – and is expanding.

One of the big issues about data centres is the huge demand on power, which in the case of South Africa is in short supply and becoming more expensive as ESKOM increases its tariffs with monotonous regularity. The rapid expansion of cloud service is placing further demands on data centre power. As equipment becomes smaller in size yet with higher capacity the power and cooling requirements increase. McCann illustrated this by a recent experience where a cloud provider used nine cubicles and required 3.3 kVA but a year later the reduced the floor space by 50% , but the power requirements doubled.

Even natural cooling needs a chilling plant. The photograph show ssome of the infrastructure under construction at Teraco Data Centre 6

Even natural cooling needs a chilling plant. The photograph show some of the infrastructure under construction at Teraco Data Centre 6

For all data centre companies today’s main priority is to reduce the amount of energy consumed. In most cases cooling can consume as much as 50% of the power. It would thus be the most logical operational area to investigate alternatives. Another option would be to move to alternate or green energy. If one looks at solar or wind power the energy generating farm would be very large to delivery enough power. Then there is the still the problem of energy storage for when there is on wind, very cloudy days and of cause hours of darkness.

McCann said the company had looked extensively at the various opportunities, and has committed to service level agreements of 99,999%, and cannot afford to negate on that because we want to save energy.  Teraco has researched the issue extensively and evaluated cooling systems overseas. The ultimatel conclusion for the Isando datacentres is that free air cooling would be the best solution. The ambient in the Johannesburg area is low enough to provide a substantial number of hours of free cooling. The company currently operates five data centres in Johannesburg with a sixth one under construction. Of the existing data centres only number 5 would be suitable for free cooling as it this at the highest point in the building. Data centre number 6 which is currently under construction has also been designed to make extensive use of free air cooling.

The current load shedding by Eskom is also of concern for datacentre owners. While all large data centres have adequate generator back-up, these units are expensive to run. Besides efficient maintenance schedules they have to ensure that they have enough diesel in their tanks but also have systems in place to ensure that after each load shedding episode the diesel tanks are filled up.

McCann said that with their Isando data centres they are fortunate to be in an airport zone, an area that does not suffer from load shedding. Howver this doesn’t  mean that they donot have to be prepared to switch to generator power – as happened last year when a substation burnt out.

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