Compass Changes Data Center Design to Get More Clients

Adds more power density options, introduces heat wheel for indirect economization

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

December 7, 2015

5 Min Read
compass 2nd gen design
A rendering of the second-generation data center design by Compass Datacenters (Image: Compass)Compass Datacenters

Having a single standard data center design whose delivery can be honed to perfection by replicating it over and over has its advantages for a developer, but it doesn’t necessarily work for every customer, and if the developer wants to branch out, change is inevitable.

Compass Datacenters, the Dallas-based wholesale data center provider co-founded by Digital Realty veteran Chris Crosby in 2012, started with the idea of delivering a standard 1.2 MW all-included single-tenant data center anywhere the customer wants. Now, three years later and several completed projects under its belt, the company is changing the design, so it can provide more capacity under one roof.

The point is to be able to serve customers Compass hasn’t been able to serve before, Crosby explained. One example would be large cloud service providers that usually need a lot of capacity in a short period of time.

Compass has already had some success in the cloud market with its first-generation design. It has built data centers for Windstream Communications – which recently sold its data center business to TierPoint – and for CenturyLink.

Little Impact Expected from Client Changes

Coincidentally, CenturyLink is also thinking about selling the data centers it owns, but it hasn’t voiced any plans to get out of the data center and cloud services business at this point. Crosby said whatever CenturyLink decides to do, it’s unlikely to have a major impact on Compass. “It’s early to tell, but I don’t think that the fundamentals change,” he said.

Both Windstream and CenturyLink are tenants. TierPoint bought Windstream’s assets as it continues to expand through acquisitions, so chances are it will keep the Compass footprint, and CenturyLink execs said they plan to continue providing data center services, even if they sell some of the company’s data center assets.

Now Competing in Top Markets

Compass’s new data center design builds on the first one but makes it more flexible in terms of both space and power, allowing the company to go after different kinds of customers in more competitive markets. This year it bought land in Dallas and Atlanta, for example.

With the ability to provide more capacity in a single build, the company can now compete on price with the top wholesale providers in the biggest markets, such as Dallas or Northern Virginia, Crosby said. With its previous design, Compass prices were higher than big customers could get from a Digital Realty or a DuPont Fabros Technology in Ashburn, Virginia, for example.

If a customer takes the higher-capacity option, they can now get it at a lower rate than they can get from one of the big competitors. “Now we can compete pricing-wise with the major markets,” Crosby said.

In addition to price, Compass is offering dedicated facilities, where customers don’t have to share infrastructure or amenities like loading docks and storage areas. The typical large wholesale campuses, like the ones in Northern Virginia, usually have multiple tenants per building, some of whom might actually prefer the single-tenant option.

More Density Options

The basic unit of capacity is still 1.2 MW, but where the old design included a 10,000-square-foot data hall and all the electrical and mechanical infrastructure to deliver that 1.2 MW of critical power, customers can now have 1.2 MW, 2.4 MW, 3.6 MW, and so on, supported by a single electrical system and mechanical plant.

The size of the data hall scales in 10,000-square-foot to 16,000-square-foot increments, independent of power capacity. In other words, you can have that 1.2 MW or 2.4 MW delivered to 10,000 square feet of raised floor, in a high-density deployment, or to 20,000 square feet or 30,000 square feet, depending on your needs.

To be able to scale capacity of the supporting infrastructure, the new design moves the cooling units from the roof of the building. Having it on the roof physically limited the amount of capacity that could be provided with the old design, even though it saved space.

Like the first design, the new one includes 2N infrastructure redundancy. The plan is also to get the second-generation design documents and buildings Tier III-certified by the Uptime Institute, Crosby said. Existing Compass data centers have the certification.

Kyoto Wheel for Free Cooling

The new Compass data center design is also more efficient, according to Crosby, who said the PUE, or Power Usage Effectiveness, is now 1.1 to 1.2. Compass can now deliver PUE under 1.3 in every market in the US, including places where the weather is warm, such as Dallas or Miami, he said.

To get better efficiency, the company has switched from direct airside economization – where outside air is pulled into the facility to supplement its mechanical cooling capacity – to indirect economization, where outside air still assists the cooling system but isn’t pushed directly into the data hall. The new system does economization using heat wheels.

As it slowly rotates, a heat wheel – also known as Kyoto wheel or rotary heat exchanger – serves as a heat exchanger between warm server-exhaust air and cool outside air, each flowing through its own separate duct. The technology addresses common problems with direct airside economization, such as air contamination and unwanted humidity, thus expanding the number of locations where economization is possible.

The cooling system requires no water.

‘Wherever the Client Wants the Data Center’

The company has been showing its new data center design to potential customers for several months now, Crosby said, and has gotten positive feedback. Being able to double the density opens doors with customers that were closed before, he said.

The move doesn’t mean Compass is moving away from its original focus on underserved secondary markets; it’s simply an “adjustment” made to be able to address more markets. “We’re definitely still primarily focused on [building] wherever the client wants the data center,” he said.

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