CenturyLink builds in central Washington

CenturyLink is on the move again, this time into central Washington with this month’s announcement of a new data centre at Moses Lake. Designed for initial ramp to 8 megawatts, and ultimately for 30 megawatts of IT load, this new facility is part of the company’s aggressive expansion plan. It also functions as a good case study providing insight into the range of factors that a business must take into account as it builds out facilities infrastructure. Since entre to the cloud and colocation business a half decade ago, CenturyLink has expanded its worldwide data centre footprint to 57 facilities, and prides itself on its ability to deliver standardized operations and services out of this network to support an increasingly global enterprise market. If the creation of seamless, global support for enterprise customers is an important value proposition for the company, creation of the infrastructure required to achieve is a more complex beast that must take into account many variables. In this exercise, CenturyLink also strives towards a standard of sorts – the ability to make the most of local environmental and market conditions to optimize performance on behalf of customers.

Drew Leonard, VP global colocation, CenturyLink
Drew Leonard, VP global colocation, CenturyLink

In the Washington case, a key consideration in siting data centre in Server Farm’s Moses Lake facilities was power. According to Drew Leonard, VP global colocation, CenturyLink, the company’s traditional facility was standardized in terms of size, features and operation – offering N+1 redundancy, for example, and M&O certification from Uptime. However, “we were getting a lot of requests from customers looking for very large, very dense, high power, low footprint footprints,” Leonard explained, and “we weren’t really lining up with those opportunities.” To ensure that it won more of these deals, CenturyLink began sourcing a site that could deliver a new service offering to meet this customer demand. The company found this in the central Washington location, which is able to access utility power that costs approximately half the average that CenturyLink pays at other sites and a quarter of the price it pays for electricity at its most expensive site.

Additionally, the temperate Central Washington climate allows the facility to take greater advantage of free air cooling for more days of the year. Free air cooling, supplemented by CRAC units when the temperature requires supplemental cooling, drives down costs at Moses Lake even further, as well as energy consumption, and with it, PUE. In a colocation facility, PUE can be a difficult metric to pin down since facilities operators have little control over the type, density or amount of computing equipment deployed by customers. To manage this conundrum in the Washington multi-tenant data centre, the CenturyLink team has based its PUD number of 1.3 on a design that takes into account equipment specifications, the type of equipment used, the temperature the facility will be run at (72 +/- 3 degrees Fahrenheit), modelling in a certain anticipated customer density and an expected utilization rate for capacity consumption based on power and space, as well as the impact of separation techniques such as hot aisle, cold aisle containment. According to Leonard, across its facilities, CenturyLink is seeing a PUE reduction of approximately two percent due to the introduction of additional energy efficiency techniques, and in new facility designs, a reduction of approximately 30 percent in PUE over older facilities.

Savings from low cost power and energy efficiency technologies allow the company to pass on savings to customers, largely through branch circuit monitoring of client energy usage, and power metering that is separate from the colocation facility, which allow CenturyLink to pass through costs on a monthly basis. Clients are incented to curtail consumption through cost monitoring.

From a latency perspective, central Washington might not be the ideal location for certain applications for certain markets – to support high speed trading in the financial services industry, for example. The new facility, however, is targeted at two different workloads. The facility, Leonard explained, is ideally located for business continuity and disaster recovery services for Seattle, Portland and northern California as it is located east of the fault line on the west coast of the US. “You want your disaster recovery facility to be as inexpensive and as cost effective as possible, but still deliver a [good] level of network connectivity.” The new data centre is on net on the CenturyLink network, and hence customers are able to take advantage of CenturyLink Gold remote hands services for monitoring and maintenance of their equipment. Remote support also translates into reduced cost for users who do not have to incur expenses for the dispatch of a technician to the Washington location. Lower colocation costs and lower power costs help offset the burden of outsourcing maintenance, even for out of region customers, based, for example, in the New York area, Leonard argued, a bundled approach that enables the manageable, single contract that CenturyLink is able to offer customers through leverage of its extensive network and managed services portfolio.

First phase of the new facility launches with 3.6 megawatts, which s are now fully subscribed; a next expansion will bring the data centre to 4.5 megawatts of N+1 capacity towards the end of 2015, followed by three tranches of 1.5 N+1 capacity. Ultimately, the facility may reach 30 megawatts through the addition of more data centre space which could be N, N+1, or N+2 in terms of redundancy, a unique ability that Leonard believes “will help solve the ‘build-to-suit’ needs that some of our customers are looking for when they approach data centre providers looking for a large footprint.” This flexibility, he explained, will allow CenturyLink to continue to serve traditional retail colocation customers, but also wholesale.

CenturyLink sources clean hydroelectricity for its facility from the Benton Public Utility District, which taps hydro power from the nearby Colombia River. This is another example of the company’s determination to use renewable energy to power its facilities – the first being the deployment of Bloom fuel cell technology that generates electricity onsite at the company’s Irvine, California site. According to Leonard, these efforts are a response to the evolution of customer needs – to their determination to source providers that utilize renewable energy now that clean fuel technologies are more mainstream, more cost effective and no longer command a price premium – and helps the company “support our green messaging to customers.”

Summarizing CenturyLink strategy, Leonard observed: “We are in the fifth generation of our data centre evolution, and we continue to look at new technologies, and new things we can employ in the data centre to make them more efficient and more cost effective, from the perspective not only of power but also connectivity.” But from this richness of options, the team applies technologies that are appropriate to a local circumstances. At the TR3 facility, which launched in Markham, Ontario last year, for example, the company relies on the energy mix provided by the local provider, but has implemented a sophisticated free air cooling system that extends the calendar time that free air may be employed through use of glycol loops that circulate cool temperature inside the facility, but does not freeze when exposed to cold Canadian winter temperatures. This ability to adapt and deploy best-of-breed in data centre technologies is the gold standard the company aspires to: “we try to stay at the forefront, and select the technologies that make sense, that are cost effective to deploy, and do that as part of our evolution of the data centre. There are a lot of factors that you have to take into account and we do that in our design on a local basis.”