Data Centre Undergoes Tech Refresh While Still Live

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

A data centre belonging to Hounslow Borough Council has been refurbished and upgraded, while still operating a ‘live’ environment

A data centre belonging to Hounslow Borough Council has been refurbished with next generation technology and infrastructure, but interestingly the rebuild was carried out in a live environment, i.e. the data centre was still operational.

The in-situ refurbishment of Hounslow Borough Council’s data centre was carried out by Comms Room Services, a British company that specialises in the design and build, refurbishment and relocation of data centres, server rooms and computer rooms.

According to Comms Room Services, the Hounslow server room and infrastructure was rebuilt over a four month period. Whilst the rebuild was done in a live environment, there were a series of controlled outages at the weekends, when most of the data cabinets were moved. However, it seems that some of the cabinets could not be moved, and therefore these were lifted while still live and whilst work continued underneath them.

Front and back-end refurbishment

The makeover of the old data centre included the replacement of old partition walls with a secure fire-rated structure. In addition, the raised floor was replaced and new structured cabling installed. However, the refurbishment also called for more drastic changes at the back-end of the data centre.

Its power infrastructure (i.e the UPS or uninterruptible power supply, as well as the power generator) were upgraded, as was the air conditioning systems. Both power and cooling systems made use of N+1 solutions for added redundancy and guaranteed uptime. Meanwhile the building itself also got a green gas fire suppression system, and for security purposes, the access control and CCTV system was replaced and upgraded.

The data centre also now has added safety protocols, in that in the event of fire, the environmental monitoring systems are designed to initiate a controlled shutdown and send situation updates to key staff via text alerts.

“We were very impressed with the professional conduct and performance of the Comms Room Services team,” said Andrew Grogan, Infrastructure and Networks Manager at Hounslow Borough Council. “The project was delivered to time and budget. We now have a modern, safe and operationally reliable server room.”

Refurbishment best scenario

“Refurbishing data centres is something we do quite often and is something we have specialised in,” said Mark Allingham, managing director of Comms Room Services. “There are many historical reasons why organisations opt to refurbish their facility (instead of building a new site), such as adequate power to the site, established communication links, and the fact that people still want direct and immediate access to their hardware.”

“I believe that Hounslow Borough Council had a report done looking at the benefits of a new building, going down the cohosting route, or even selecting a greenfield site, but the report found that the best scenario was to refurbish their existing facility whilst still live,” Allingham said, speaking to eWEEK Europe.

“There has been fairly consistent demand over the years for the refurbishing of existing facilities,” he explained. “A lot of data centres we come across are older than ten years, many for example are the remains of a mainframe-based data centre, which often has ancient air conditioning systems etc.”

“All live environments refurbishments have their own challenges and we have to come with solutions to these challenges,” said Allingham. “I think that many IT managers and directors have the mindset of upgrading their existing facilities rather than considering other options, but equally there is a government drive to use singular data centres, but that is resulting in a certain degree of nervousness and worries over lack of control, i.e. who has access to my equipment?”

Allingham said that Comms Room Services has just started another data centre refurbishment for Gwynedd Council in North Wales. “In this case, we have taken the complete side of the building off and rebricked it, in order to take advantage of free air cooling, which should reduce Gwynedd Council’s power cost to run air conditioning systems by 50 percent.”