The big three zero

The big three zero

27 October 2020 | Melanie Mingas

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From being the most interconnected operator to being everywhere, Telehouse sales director Mark Pestridge tells Melanie Mingas how things have changed in the 30 years since the first facility opened in London — and what the growing demand for data centres will mean for the future of the Telehouse business model.

The year 1990 was a significant one for the history books. Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Germany won the World Cup, and at CERN Tim Berners-Lee’s line manager gave him approval to work on an idea called The Web. 

Meanwhile in London, a building opened that would provide a glimpse of a future that nobody could yet imagine — except, maybe for Tim — it was Europe’s first purpose-built colocation data centre, Telehouse North.

“It all started with us being the first colocation provider in Europe and in London,” says Mark Pestridge, sales director for KDDI’s Telehouse, itself established in 1989 with the opening of the first facility in New York. The London

Docklands site was designed to house major mainframe computers, predominantly for the financial sector, and to support disaster recovery.

“Obviously, in 1990, the world was very different and, back in those days, we were designing data centres to pull maximum about half a kilowatt per footprint. Times have changed massively,” Pestridge continues.

In addition to the power demands, back then there were only two carriers available. As of the last count London customers could select from more than 530 carriers, ISPs and ASPs, interconnected to any of the (currently four) buildings on the campus via dark fibre — while still enjoying the same low latency connectivity to the UK’s financial centre.

Within four years Telehouse North was home to LINX, the London Internet Exchange — “They haven’t had a single minute of downtime since they went live with us in 1994”, Pestridge says — and by 1996 Telehouse the company was embarking on a major expansion project.

With 30 years now under its figurative belt, Telehouse operates more than 40 sites across more than 20 cities — the newest facility came online in 2016 — and it counts more connectivity providers, internet exchanges and cloud providers in its data centres than anybody else.

“All the changes that have happened in the last 30 years around deregulation, the internet explosion, content, streaming, cloud provision, all those things, we have seen a huge shift in what we are doing,” Pestridge continues.

“That’s really what we have based our USPs around,” he adds.

Today the focus remains on Telehouse’s primary markets: London, Paris and Frankfurt, where the biggest and busiest facilities are. However, while the business remains committed to customers, what those customers want remains a moving target. Graduating from the traditional wish list of agility, flexibility and efficiency, customers now want wholistic deployments, migrations, connectivity and, of course, security. As a result, Pestridge says the goal is to deliver “what we call a five-star data centre service”.

“We can’t deliver a service unless it fills a customer demand and customer demand has changed massively over the last three decades. Even over the last five years or six months,” says Pestridge.

He adds: “What we are also seeing is enterprise customers beginning to understand that collocating in a multi-tenant data centre gives them economies of scale, efficiencies, and enables them to leverage some of the cloud providers while housing their back office environment in a facility they can manage remotely.

“That has come to the fore in the last six months where IT staff haven’t been able to get to city centre offices,” he continues.

However, while the concept of five-star anything is usually tied to extravagance and excess, in this case things are different. Because in the process of meeting their data centre requirements, the customer doesn’t want to contribute to the industry’s excessive energy consumption.

The future is green

By IDC estimates, by the time Telehouse North was 22 years old there were 500,000 data centres globally, and while they each had their own customer profiles and USPs, combined they were making significant contributions to energy consumption.

Today, IDC counts eight million data centres and the International Energy Agency reported that in 2019 they were responsible for 1% of global electricity use — although it was highlighted this would have been far higher without the intervention seen in recent years. With our connected future now almost our connected present, the numbers are set to explode again.

“We have to be so cognisant of our obligation to the planet whilst making sure we can deliver and help to deliver the things that make life more enjoyable, make people more interconnected, and all those good things,” says Pestridge.

Telehouse’s environmental journey can be traced back to 2008 when Telehouse Europe became the first purpose-built colocation facility to gain ISO:14001, the internally recognised environmental management system. By 2011 the firm had achieved Carbon Trust Standard Certification and had incorporated renewables in its UK energy mix and today the London facilities are 100% powered from renewable sources.

“The green agenda is front of mind for everybody, so we are spending more time and money on this. For an industry which is traditionally not seen as energy efficient, we are doing as much as we can as quickly as we can, to be as energy efficient as we can,” Pestridge says.

In London that translates to retrofits and new cooling technology, among other methods — just because the energy is renewable, it doesn’t mean it can be wasted.

“It’s a complex job. We have some customers who have been in those buildings for 20 or 30 years. The only time we can make improvements is when potentially they relocate to another part of our campus,” Pestridge explains, describing the room by room approach, “which is anything between 50 and 200 racks at a time”.

Heading the sustainability strategy for Telehouse in the long term is energy and environmental manager Carolina Uribe, who heads internal initiatives and draws all key stakeholders into the work.

“Carolina is responsible for working with government bodies and regulatory agencies to make sure we are being as proactive as we can be in driving those green initiatives,” he adds. The next initiative? Expanding to colder climes that are easier — and cheaper — to cool. But that isn’t just about the environment. 

Density vs space

Describing locations that “do not need interconnection, where latency isn’t as important and milliseconds do not cost millions of dollars”, Pestridge says the industry is about to see a shift to places where it’s easier — and greener — to cool.

“There is an opportunity for both of those environments to coexist. Whilst you still need the interconnected city centre sites, there will be an opportunity for other types of deployments which don’t rely on that interconnection to house themselves, where they can take benefit from the economies of scale such as land and power,” he continues.

While Pestridge is aware that predictions are a tricky business, he still has an ear to the ground and sees another, bolder trend emerging and driving the same outcome. And it isn’t the edge.

“We will see some very strange requirements for very high bandwidth in very small spaces. We may see deployments where a customer wants one rack with 30KW, for example, which has never been seen before. But you can understand the type of requirements what would drive that,” Pestridge continues. How will such power-hungry racks be cooled? “I see a huge drive to move to locations that have a colder climate and it is easier to cool equipment, so it’s less drain on the environment.”

After the high bandwidth in smaller spaces trend “takes over”, along with smaller more flexible deployments, the next trend to watch will be the technology driving life in 2030.

“Ten years ago, we would never have thought about IoT driving what we do, or connected cars, all those things. What will be the new technologies that help drive what consumers need in another 10 years time?”

On the future, Pestridge says Telehouse remains committed to its role as the most interconnected data centre in Europe, and by default that means it remains committed to its customers. Investment is another big one. As recently as August Telehouse announced a fifth facility would be built at the London Docklands campus. Adding 31,000 sqm of colocation space and 500 racks, it is scheduled to open in 2022.

“If I could have a crystal ball and know what will drive the data centre market in 15 years’ time I would be a very rich man, but what I do know is that the demand is going to be there,” Pestridge says, referencing his earlier outlook on energy efficiency and new locations. But it won’t be all change in the coming years and decades.

“There will always be a demand for the highly-connected, city centre data centres that we have. Netflix, YouTube, connected cars, all the things rely on you being close to that connectivity, so there will continue to be demand for city centre, connected data centres, and we will continue to be at the heart of that.”