TR3 liftoff in Markham

The Toronto data centre space is hot, and getting hotter. One of North America's ten largest markets, the GTA is also one of the world's fastest growing data centre hubs. According to DataCenter Dynamics’ ongoing research census, total Toronto 'white space' — raised floor and associated operations areas — has increased by nearly 25 percent since 2011, and DCD anticipates increased data centre investment of nearly 12 percent this year. Over this same period, power utilization also grew at a rate of 30 percent, a measure of increasing server densities — and indicator of growing demand for data centre resources in the region. In response to this phenomenon, CenturyLink Technology Services has adopted a cool stance, announcing the launch this month of yet one more resource-efficient facility in a measured roll out of the company’s GTA data centre network.

CenturyLink is no Johnny-come-later to the Toronto market. The third largest network services provider in the US recognized, and seized upon the growing opportunity represented by cloud and data centre services back in the spring of 2011, when it announced its intent to acquire the extensive data centre footprint of Savvis Inc. At that time, Savvis had several holdings in Canada, having itself purchased Canadian IT and colocation provider Fusepoint Inc. and its facilities in Toronto (Mississauga), Vancouver and Montreal the year before. In Canada, Savvis, now CenturyLink Technology Solutions, set ambitious expansion plans in motion with announcement in December 2013 of its intent to build a new centre in Markham, Ontario. This month, this plan was brought into reality with launch of TR3, a 100,923 square foot, 5 MW facility which represents CenturyLink’s fourth Canadian operation. According to Canadian country manager Ash Mather, strategic planning is now underway to open a fifth centre at an unspecified location in the country.

David Meredith, SVP and global GM, CenturyLink Technology Solutions
David Meredith, SVP and global GM, CenturyLink Technology Solutions

As David Meredith, SVP and Global GM for CenturyLink Technology Solutions, described it, local enthusiasm for expansion meant that "getting the new Toronto site selected and finalized and a start on construction was a big priority" for the company. At any one time, CenturyLink has ten or so expansion projects on the go, and also launched in Hong Kong, Minnesota, Southern California, Chicago and London this year, for a full complement of 57 data centres. But "Canada has been a fantastic market for us," Meredith explained. "If you look at our metrics for utilization or fill rates or at customer demand, every one of those [Canadian] facilities is well above the curve for our global footprint." The Toronto market has been especially productive, he added, with work to add more capacity to the existing Mississauga centre an ongoing concern. TR1 is "almost full," Meredith noted, "and when you get to almost full in a data centre, it’s like the game of Tetris: you might be able to fit in smaller customers." But large contracts are impossible to fill, hence the need for TR3. Beyond customer demand, in expansion planning CenturyLink also considers local management skill, which the company found in the Canadian team. For Meredith, the number of signed clients and customer prospects for TR3 mean "we are very happy with our decision to come and open another facility here."

Like all CenturyLink facilities, TR3 will offer a combination of cloud, managed IT and colocation services, a company signature that Meredith believes best serves an evolving market, while serving as a differentiator for CenturyLink. By offering a variety of deployment models, the company aspires to be the provider of choice as customers transition to cloud and other forms of hybrid computing.  "When I build a facility, we have a business case that assumes we sell ‘x’ amount of cloud, ‘y’ amount of services, ‘z’ amount of network and colo. There’s always a big piece of colo in our model, but we definitely like hybrid approach, where people know they’re going to be doing a bit of everything," Meredith explained. While help individual customers, this model also anticipates market shifts towards new forms of delivery in Toronto and elsewhere: while 10 years ago, close to 90 percent of colocation customers were enterprises, Meredith expects that in 5 years time, half of colo customers will be service providers. "XaaS companies no longer want to be in the data centre game; most of those kinds of companies are leasing space in a multi-tenant data centre like this one," he added. And while the service providers may present competition for the company’s advanced cloud and other services, Meredith "welcomes co-opetition" — even provides a service called Client Connect that helps the community sell and connect to each other. CenturyLink’s goal is servicing this growing segment is to create "ecosystems" of service provider customers and enterprises, "where we can just do cross connects between them, and then they don’t have such high network fees," Meredith stated, another opportunity that is enabled through the company’s three-pronged service approach.

Left to right: David Meredith, SVP and global GM for CenturyLink Technology Solutions; Jeff Von Deylen, president, CenturyLink Technology Solutions; Tony Olvet, group VP, IDC Canada; Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham and Ash Mathur, VP and Country Director, CenturyLink Technology Services Canada, cut the ribbon to launch TR3.
Left to right: David Meredith, SVP and global GM for CenturyLink Technology Solutions; Jeff Von Deylen, president, CenturyLink Technology Solutions; Tony Olvet, group VP, IDC Canada; Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham and Ash Mathur, VP and Country Director, CenturyLink Technology Services Canada, cut the ribbon to launch TR3.

The value proposition that TR3 offers these customers, is a facility with Tier III Uptime certification for design and for construction and a 100 percent uptime standard for SLAs — a level of reliability that will appeal to the e-commerce SaaS or service provider that is totally dependent on IT systems, as well as to the enterprise. Drawing on its strength in networking, CenturyLink has created a "metro triangle" connecting the Mississauga and Markham data centres with the TORIX communications hub at 151 Front St., which puts these centres on net with the company’s global network, though carrier diversity onsite allows customers choice in terms of specific network provider. This advanced connectivity will allow CenturyLink to help customers manage redundancy requirements for their TR3 deployments.

CenturyLink has taken a phased approach to roll out of data centre space to accommodate colo customers and growth in its own managed IT and cloud services; however, it has ensured that the Markham location will have access to the power it needs to support a 5 MW facility at 2N. According to Meredith, "The GTA has a legacy of delivering reliable power, so delivery was not an issue. Price for power varies and our preference was to build in the lower power cost area, which we did. The data center is adjacent to large amounts of transmission lines and sub stations, which illustrates the amount of power in the area. PowerStream is the only local option for Hydro. While PowerStream does have a solid record for availability and reliability, our design relies on generator power as the primary source of Hydro with Utility being the backup Hydro source. This is a standard design requirement for Tier III Certified Designs approved by The Uptime Institute."

In terms of facilities management, CenturyLink engages in the sharing of best practices across its 57 locations, with the aim of adhering to common high standards for availability and data centre efficiency. A big part of this is cooling, which in some (other) facilities can account for up to 40 percent of operational cost. TR3 is equipped with a centralized HVAC mechanical plant that has incorporated ‘dry coolers’ to take advantage of ‘free cooling’ when the weather outside permits, which in the Toronto region, is at least eight months of the year. As Frank Gimondo, director, data centre operations at CenturyLink Technology Solutions Canada, explained, the system features three 400 ton CRAC units located outside the building, as well as two 342 ton dry coolers (these will support the first 2MW; two more units will be phased in to support additional demand). From October to April, the CRAC units will be shut down, and the dry cooling units put into play. These units rely on a 30% glycol/water medium that is pushed through the outside air their primary coolant source. This coolant is circulated by a Systecon triple pump package which picks up heat exhaust from the data centre, sends it outside to the three chillers, where cold temperatures are exchanged through the use of fans that push air cooled by the glycol loops over high pressure refrigerant coils for distribution back into the data centre. Because this system is closed loop — "closed supply, and closed return," Gimondo explained, "we don’t need to worry about taking up domestic water."

Frank Gimondo, director, data centre operations Canada, CenturyLink Technology Solutions
Frank Gimondo, director, data centre operations Canada, CenturyLink Technology Solutions

Use of water resources is an increasing concern in data centre circles, as systems such as evaporative cooling that are attractive because they use less energy are large consumers of water: the water/energy trade off in data centre management is becoming a critical issue as data centres compete for water in regions where this resource is in short supply. If measured, no doubt TR3 would boast a respectable WUE rating, a metric developed by The Green Grid to measure water utilization effectiveness. To cool the actual floor racks, Gimondo’s team will take advantage of computational fluid dynamic analysis to monitor the heat kicked off by servers and direct cooling appropriately, maintaining a floor temperature of 24-25 degrees C. "This may sound a little hot," Gimondo observed, "but it’s a standard that we have deployed globally that allows us to maintain better efficiency, and allows me to run my systems a little lighter. It allows me to save on consumption and pass on these savings to the customer." The latest ASHRAE Guidelines on set point temperatures for the data centre are 8C to 27C (recommended) and 5C to 40C (allowable).

According to Gimondo, equipment and operational decisions have produced a PUE of 1.4 for TR3, a good metric for a mixed colocation facility, which unlike hyperscale data centres that have optimized IT and facilities for efficiency, does not have control over equipment and server densities introduced by customers. This PUE has been calculated based on power and cooling systems that are now in place, as well as the impact of customer implementations that have been measured in other deployments that CenturyLink has already built out: "our global PUE is around 1.6," Gimondo added.

The TR3 data centre is located 25 minutes from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, and specs for the facility are available here.

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