Wholesale data center providers are increasingly offering smaller chunks of space and are getting more involved with customers and their infrastructure needs. The latest example is Vantage Data Centers, which has been working closely with customers in a variety of ways, from providing remote hands to helping them increase energy and capital efficiency. The company is increasingly working with sub-1-megawatt customers that have the potential to grow into a typical wholesale space. We caught up with Vantage COO Chris Yetman recently to talk about the changing relationship between wholesale providers and their customers.
Other examples of providers who find themselves having to provide more data center services than just space and power include Digital Realty Trust, which said in May that it was seeing more demand for fuller data center solutions. Both Digital Realty and another major U.S. wholesaler DuPont Fabros have also been more actively promoting deals that are smaller than traditional multi-megawatt leases.
Wholesale is easier than growing in retail
There are some challenges to accepting smaller customers, but Vantage believes it's worth it in the long run. It's easier for someone to grow into wholesale than migrate to wholesale from rack-based retail colocation. The company is accepting smaller deals than normal if there are indications that the customer will grow into the space.
Selling 0.5-megawatt and 0.25-megawatt chunks, the company also has been offering other data center services, such remote-hands support, which is something it hasn’t done in the past.
Working with smaller customers means customers can take advantage of wholesale data center space and it means they cannot be “trapped by colocation,” according to Yetman. "We talk to retail colo customers who don’t want to move because they’re scared to death and they don’t want to break it.
"Colocation providers incrementally grow customers and eventually they realize they’re drawing down 1.5 megawatts and paying big prices per cab. What we’re saying is, you can leave sooner so it doesn’t get big and complex. We'll give you smart hands. We'll hook you up with good vendors. We're good with layout, racks, and have an ecosystem that helps them."
Pushing the envelope for better TCO
Vantage is also working with customers to push their environmental comfort zones. Operating at temperatures warmer than 70F offers several benefits that offset any potential hardware failures, Yetman said.
He believes IT is often too afraid to let hardware fail, and that IT should in fact plan for hardware failure. The emphasis should be on recovery and resilient software. By pushing the temperature envelope companies can improve overall data center TCO. “I believe whatever faults you drive into the hardware is minimal in terms of gains of TCO,” he says.
Where it can, Vantage is increasingly leveraging outside-air economization in combination with containerization to provide optimal TCO.
“We’re also big on making sure customers put containment in,” said Yetman. “We check containment as part of our rounds, because people make changes. If we see cabs with missing blanking plates, we go talk to the customer and say ‘let’s go ahead and work with you.’” Most customers install really well, but over the course of a year they keep making changes. “I almost think of it as a slow degradation.”
The company uses modeling to optimize space for customer environments. “Cloudera is a recent customer, signed back in May,” Yetman said. “We’re lighting up their space with them; it’s been a fun experience.” The Hadoop distribution vendor said Vantage offered the lowest TCO. Cloudera is said to be taking a significant amount of data center space.
Closer relationships means providing better data
The building has to be smarter, and Vantage engineers are leveraging data and making it more transparent to the customer. “Lots of folks have data they're willing to share in a portal,” said Yetman. “We’ll give customers access to the same info (dew point, etc.) that we gather off of our systems ourselves.” The company creates graphs based on that data and uses them to operate the data centers. “We want to have a good conversation with customers to help stretch their envelope. Helping them operate at warmer temperatures with good containment drastically lowers their TCO.”
Vantage built an overarching SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system based on Java that sits like an umbrella across all of its buildings. The company also employs Ignition to calculate overall equipment effectiveness, collecting data into BMSs and putting it into a much larger MySQL database.
Outside-air challenges in Santa Clara
The company's VC2 facility is built to take advantage of outside air. Cold air is supplied from the top, taking advantage of the simple principle that hot air likes to rise and cold air likes to drop.
Temperature and humidity swings make use of outside air challenging in Santa Clara. “Humidity in particular is the more challenging problem,” said Yetman. If temperatures and humidity fluctuate, the company does partial economization to dry out that humidity. “It’s not operating at 80 percent humidity that is dangerous so much as a quick fluctuation,” said Yetman. “The answer is to slow it down – get to 80 but not as fast. If that weather comes in fast, we’ll start to bleed it in and eventually go back to full outside.”
“In one of our more efficient facilities, a customer saw more ... failures,” said Yetman. “We re-sealed the building up and worked with them to dial in the temperature and humidity swings. When we make sure we have that on a tight band, it didn’t make a material difference in terms of failures.”