Christine De Ridder of LuxConnect with an aerial photo of the firm’s three Bettembourg data centres. She is pictured giving a tour to Delano on 3 April 2017.
Photo: LaLa La Photo
Internet content is said to reside on the “cloud”.
The reality is a series of data centres: hundreds of computers in highly secure, well-connected, concrete and steel refrigerators. Delano recently took a tour of one of the most modern of these facilities.
Social media, gaming, video and music streaming, online banking, and the rest rely on apparently nondescript data centres. LuxConnect is this country’s leading supplier of these facilities, with three in Bettembourg in the south (put into service in 2009, 2011 and 2015), and one in northerly Bissen (2012).
“These are five-star hotels for high power computers,” explained Christine De Ridder, a manager for data centre projects. “We rent secure empty rooms supplied with cold air, connectivity and electricity.” Delano visited the most recently built of these facilities, DC1.3 in Bettembourg, in April.
Guests at this “hotel” are very demanding. DC1.3 has 5,500m2 space for servers, and for this to work to the highest standards, equipment occupying a further 17,500m2 is required. This is room for the electricity transformer, the backup transformer, a diesel powered back-up electricity supply, extensive cooling infrastructure (with backups), fire extinguishing equipment, control rooms and offices.
Large clients (such as eBay and Skype/Microsoft) rent whole IT rooms (from 216m2 to 324m2), while service providers (such as IBM, Telindus, and CIG) sublet some or all of the 36m2 “cages” they operate. As well, a room is set aside for telecommunications providers to bring their cables into the heart of the centre, with around 30 local and international firms supplying the centre.
Each room is 3.8m high, with a one-metre-deep false floor. This underfloor space provides unobtrusive access for connectivity cables, the power supply, air conditioning pipes and the fire extinguishing system.
A room full of high-power computers gives off a lot of heat, and servers must be kept cool if they are to work well. The air conditioning system is mainly water-based, but can also use air when outside temperatures permit. Water is chilled on the roof and then is carried through the building via a network of under-floor pipes. This keeps the rooms below the optimal maximum of 25°C in all weathers.
There is also a 70,000 cold water litre reserve, just in case of a major power failure.
Air-conditioning temperature gauges are pictured inside Luxconnect’s “DC1.3” data centre in Bettembourg, during a tour given to Delano on 3 April 2017. Image: LaLa La Photo
A constant supply of electricity is vital. DC1.3 has two transformers (in case one fails) to convert power from the grid into an ideal smooth supply. It is also sometimes necessary to fill small outages of a fraction of a second.
A separate room equipped with hundreds of batteries is used to this end. A final power back-up provided by a diesel generator, with enough fuel to keep the centre running independently of the electricity grid for 48 hours.
A secure investment
Hundreds of smoke and fire detectors dot the ceilings and walls. At the first whiff of danger, nitrogen is released from about 100 1.5m storage bottles, thus starving the flames of oxygen. This gas is used because it is not harmful to humans. The site also has specially deep foundations to counter even small changes in geology.
Security is the final component. Identification badges have to be scanned four times to give access to the IT rooms. Also, once space is rented to clients, LuxConnect’s personnel no longer have access, other than security staff.
Also, the firm doesn’t know the identity of most of the end clients. The IT kit is also protected from external electromagnetic interference by being enclosed in a metal Faraday cage. Clients add further security by keeping backups or “mirrors” of critical systems in other locations, either in Luxembourg or abroad.
Green IT is a major selling point, with many clients, and LuxConnect has a policy of using the most benign sources possible. All the electricity used comes from Norwegian hydroelectric suppliers.
LuxConnect is a private company that is wholly owned by the state. This has enabled them to make long-term investments, anticipating future demand. This country now hosts about one third of Europe’s supply of the highest-ranked Tier IV data centres. LuxConnect also contributes to this, and has laid 1,300km of ultra-high bandwidth dark fibre cables, connected to 12 “break out” points on the borders.
Having this high quality infrastructure is often central to attract new investment into this country by international businesses.
This article was first published in the May 2017 issue of Delano magazine. Be the first to read Delano articles on paper before they’re posted online, plus read exclusive features and interviews that only appear in the print edition, by subscribing online.