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Rackspace: The UK Has Plenty Of Energy

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Data centres should not fear Britain’s energy future, says Rackspace’s Nigeil Beighton

Rackspace didn’t want to announce its plans for a new UK data centre yet: it’s not being built until 2014. But since the construction work is being carried out by US company Digital Realty, a US filing on the deal has given the secret away.

After the news was published last month, Rackspace’s technology vice president Nigel Beighton gave us some more information. There’s still no detail on the technology, as the Open Compute specifications are moving quickly, and the actual fit-out is still 18 months away. But Beighton made it clear that Rackspace has chosen the UK, and is quite happy for us to see this as an endorsement of British plans for power generation.

Energy, Power Plant, Infrastructure© TonyV3112 Shutterstock 2012

Power to the data centre!

“This is a big vote of confidence in the UK’s power supply,” said Beighton. “We would never have put this data centre here if we didn’t have confidence power would be available at the right price.”

Rackspace has “multiple” utility companies ready to supply the 10MW data centre (located either North or South of London), said Beighton. “I have total confidence that power will be there.”

Like many others, he has heard talk of a gap in the UK’s energy generation capacity, as old plants get switched off and renewables attempt to fill the void – but this fear  “gets blown completely out of proportion,” he said.

He has also heard the data centre industry worrying that green taxes might raise costs here, and make the British data centre industry less competitive, but he dismisses these fears too.

Rackspace is definitely going to be energy efficient, aiming for an enviable PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) of 1.25, but this is simply good business sense, allowing the firm to offer web hosting at a lower price, and giving its customers the right sort of figures to enter in their own carbon accounts: “I think all data centre providers should be responsible and really think about their PUE,” said Technology VP, “It makes good commercial sense.”

Open Stack, Open Compute, Open Source

For the new centre, Rackspace is using the Open Compute platform for low-energy hardware, and the OpenStack standard for the software, both of which help Rackspace to offer scalability, spinning up “hundreds of servers in under ten minutes”, Beighton said.

“People will turn up and ask for hundreds or thousands of servers and petabytes of storage,” he said. “It’s the ultimate Chinese buffet, with scaling almost to infinity. For an engineer, that is an interesting challenge.” Rackspace won’t have thousands of servers in the site doing nothing – it will have to understand the likely peaks of customer demand, explained Beighton.

He is particularly pleased with progress on OpenStack, the cloud building standard. “We founded it, and now it is a full open source foundation, in which we have just one seat on the board. In the last release, there were 3500 contributors.”

And how much of the Open Compute hardware standard will Rackspace use? “The Open Computer project never set out to produce a definitive one-size-fits-all design,” said Beighton. “We will take some of the learning from Open Compute and change it – we have slightly different performance characteristics, and a different type of workload. While Facebook has multiple apps that appear as one application, we cover a wide range of separate customers.”

In the next eighteen months, server technologies will evolve, so Beighton wouldn’t predict the exact layout that the new data centre would use, although he was sceptical about the  “Group  Hug” standard, which allows one motherboard to support multiple generations of processors from different vendors.

As a Yorkshireman, he doesn’t like  the sound of the Group Hug name, but beyond that, he believes it has to prove itself: “Separating the chip from the motherboard is incredibly interesting, and would mean a real lot of innovation around server tech, but it is very early days.” The idea might evolve into a mass market, he said, but if it doesn’t it could become a “niche capability” which doesn’t provide multiple sourcing or economies of scale.

“I love the ideas of innovation, as long as we are able to multisource it in a mass market.”

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