Applying Military Precision to the Data Center Supply Chain

Published by: Andrew Schaap – CEO at Aligned Data Centers – March 07, 2019

“Today’s rapidly changing world, marked by increased speed and dense interdependencies, means that organizations everywhere are now facing dizzying challenges, from global terrorism to health epidemics to supply chain disruption to game-changing technologies. These issues can be solved only by creating sustained organizational adaptability through the establishment of a team of teams.”

― General Stanley McChrystal, from his book, “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”

In the military, the term Tactical Landing Zone, or TLZ, is used to describe a precise location for the landing of an aircraft, whether a clearing in the jungle or a valley. A TLZ is ideally situated in an area that is safe or easy to defend. However, establishing a defensive perimeter is often necessary as helicopters delivering materiel and troops, who are carefully trained in the insertion process, are supported on the ground by teams of other highly-trained personnel in this mission-critical supply chain operation.

Aligned’s adaptable data center platform and advanced supply chain methodology is not unlike a TLZ whereby highly-trained teams act with great speed and precision. But whereas a TLZ provides the location at which military aircraft can unload troops and supplies, we provide wholesale colocation and build-to-scale data center solutions for the storage, management and movement of organizations’ data.  

In today’s digital economy, capacity demand for hyperscalers, platform and cloud providers, and enterprises dependent on high-density computing can fluctuate quarter-by-quarter, project-to-project or even day-to-day, given the cyclicity of their revenue streams, the launch of new products and services, or the expansion of their businesses into new markets. Although hyperscalers can estimate their annual demand with a reasonable amount of accuracy, quarterly fluctuations can be significant, so demand forecasting and related business planning can prove challenging.

Hyperscalers, cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers are also experiencing an exponential increase in data generation from their clients, which in turn is forcing them to expand their infrastructure at unprecedented rates. According to research by Domo, a publicly-traded computer software company that specializes in business intelligence tools and data visualization, on average, users of the Internet generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.

Moreover, given Gartner’s estimate that more than 20 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be deployed next year, we can be certain that data generation will only continue to accelerate. Factor in the growing use of new and emerging technologies, such as Big Data analytics, consumer and industrial Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) applications, and Augmented Reality (AR), and it’s clear that hyperscalers, cloud and platform providers will have to be able to secure scalable capacity — where and when they need it — which is capable of serving potentially hundreds of millions of users.

Along with increasing pressure to increase scale, hyperscalers are also looking to lower costs even as they take on new workloads. Key considerations for selecting infrastructure providers include data center deployment time, design flexibility, energy efficiency and sustainability. In many cases, Big Tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM have built their data centers in proximity to low cost, renewable energy sources. The distributed nature of hyperscalers also calls for regional solutions, where workloads can be localized to reduce latency and provide an improved user experience.

Providing Intelligent Infrastructure with Speed, Scale and Simplicity

Over the past several years, my colleagues and I at Aligned have recognized that in the face of the relatively unpredictable nature of data flow and generation, hyperscalers, platform and cloud service customers are becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of data center offerings from entrenched providers with less flexible supply chains. More and more, these organizations are seeking solutions that will allow them to scale rapidly while maintaining operational simplicity in their respective deployments.

In order to solve forecasting issues related to future IT requirements, at Aligned, we’ve standardized both our mechanical and electrical supply chains to more dynamically meet customer needs. We provide electrical inventory in the form of a standardized kit that encompasses medium-voltage power distribution all the way down to the Power Distribution Unit (PDU). On the mechanical side, we provide a complete cooling inventory program from heat rejection to heat absorption. At any given point in time, our vendors hold an approximately 50 MW, auto-replenished pool of available inventory, exclusively for our use, ready for immediate deployment and comprised of prefabricated, factory-built and tested power and cooling equipment.

Aligned prefabricates power and cooling equipment for fast, easy and efficient deployment and scalability, with our intelligent infrastructure allowing delivery of data centers as a utility. Taking the installation of the most critical equipment out of the field and into the factory, prefabricated components accelerate project timelines and reduce cost, as compared to on-site assembly.

Aligned’s incrementally scalable technology allows customers to deploy infrastructure as needed, and reconfigure seamlessly, usually in the same footprint, as requirements change. In fact, we can provision initial deployments of 2 to 20+ MWs of capacity, and scale beyond in as little as three months. New data center builds can be delivered in as few as seven to nine months.

This approach provides hyperscalers, platform and cloud service customers with a simple and repeatable model for expansion into new or existing markets, eliminating financial risk and ensuring on-time project delivery.

You can learn more about how Aligned’s adaptable data center platform and advanced supply chain methodology combine to serve the needs of hyperscalers, platform and cloud service providers by downloading our latest case study.

Read the full article HERE.

Four Elements to Consider for High-density Data Centers

Published by: Andrew Schaap – CEO at Aligned Data Centers

Speed to market, flexibility, and scalability have become mission-critical for hyperscale platforms and large enterprises when expanding or upgrading existing infrastructure.

Meteoric growth and unprecedented scalability demands are outpacing what high capacity data center customers, such as cloud and platform providers and enterprise organizations, want to produce in their own facilities. Moreover, when expanding into existing or new markets, predicting usage and growth models is becoming a complex endeavor fraught with a variety of bottom line risk factors for these organizations.

To solve for this, some companies roll the dice and over-provision, thus increasing CapEx and OpEx. Meanwhile, others may simply be unable to build or obtain data center capacity quickly enough, where and when they need it, thus hamstringing new revenue-generating initiatives. Another challenge these organizations face is that compute loads are becoming more dynamic since capacity demand can vary quarterly or even project by project.

Lastly, but certainly not least, these high capacity customers are affected by the challenge of fulfilling environmental and sustainability mandates — a good thing, to be sure, given the industry’s shared responsibility to become better stewards of the planet. According to a recent study by Dell EMC, the data center industry is consuming 200 terawatt-hours of power each year, the equivalent of one-tenth of the total energy usage worldwide. But it’s not just the tech behemoths that are consuming so much energy; it’s not uncommon for a single data center serving a large enterprise to use the same amount of electricity as a small town.

The good news is that an IHS Markit survey found that internally these organizations are increasingly driven by potential energy cost savings or sustainability policies, while externally they are more and more motivated by their customers’ desire for doing business with companies that have environmentally friendly practices. Additionally, the pursuit of tax incentives and subsidies from governments that proffer a carrot not a stick has become a motivating influence.

Read the full article on Data Center Knowledge HERE.

Delivering an Adaptive Data Center Platform

Published by: Daniel Brightmore – Feb 05, 2020, 5:24AM

Aligned is focused on designing and delivering dynamic solutions with industry-leading technology and adaptive infrastructure that align with customers’ needs and requirements.

“Often when a large hyperscale provider is looking for a space, it has an internal plan for the year for capacity and compute – typically based on the individual business being able to support projected growth and requirements for the year. That need for sophisticated capacity planning in the data centre industry is often due to sector volatility or how fluid the business requirements for individual applications are…” 

Mike Coleman, Global Head of Design & Delivery at Aligned, leads the company’s clients through the minefields of mission-critical; a solution provider able to react quickly to changing needs. “A customer may have planned for 10MW of space, but the business might realise it needs 15MW, and right now,” he says. “At Aligned, we have the capability to help them through that and ensure they have the space they need, where and when they need it.”

Aligned’s approach is to design a physical, electrical, and mechanical infrastructure that is very quickly deployable, but also deployable in the right-sized increments to meet customers’ unique capacity needs and requirements – now and in the future. “Instead of building a 50MW data centre and having it sit there waiting for it to be fully utilised, we’re able to build the physical structure, whether it’s a cold or a warm shell, and then incrementally deploy infrastructure at pace,” assures Coleman. “For example, we can get the mechanical backplane down to as little as 750KW of cooling capacity in an individual increment. Allied to this, our electrical topology is extremely flexible, allowing us to make adjustments towards a specific customer.”

“I’m very impressed with our first building in Salt Lake City. That was a brownfield conversion of a chip plant where we were able to purchase and retrofit the building, as well as get customers deployed there in under a year; that’s almost unheard of in our industry.” – Mike Coleman, Global Head of Design & Delivery at Aligned

Coleman highlights that this flexibility allows Aligned to deploy incrementally across a building in two ways. “We can add to the planned capacity for the building, but also if the customer decides that they’re going to grow in place,” he explains. “From a density perspective, we can add that capacity in their current physical footprint and not require additional square footage or a lift-and-shift of equipment into a different space. That’s the philosophy behind the design and the way that we’re able to meet those commitments. Once we have the cold channel, we make the space ready maintaining approximately 50MW of our mechanical and electrical infrastructure rolling through the supply chain. We manage that very closely between the sites. By standardising that infrastructure from site to site, we’re able to make delivery commitments with our vendors, with our suppliers, with incremental release dates that allows us to keep them up and running.”

Aligned has commoditised its processes allowing it to deploy mechanical and electrical equipment in modules. This reduces onsite construction and the labour required while also minimising disruption for any tenants using the facility. “We aim for our work to be seamless and the process to go almost unnoticed,” adds Coleman.

Future-proofing its infrastructure solutions is critical for Aligned when contemplating the overall design of a project. “Future-proofing is typically focused on increased density; with CPUs getting increasingly powerful, they draw more and more power,” notes Coleman. “Historically, what happens in the data centre when you look at the retail or wholesale environment, is that a company with a traditional 15-year lease for a larger deployment will start to see a lot of empty space in the room because as they go through a tech refresh cycle, the equipment they’re installing is getting smaller, while requiring an equal amount of cooling. When Aligned started in 2013, our goal was to drive a more sustainable approach to providing a physical structure in a number of ways. Today, we match 100% of our IT load with renewable energy sources.”

Aligned saw that with traditional cooling systems, faults would occur and this became the driving force behind the push for future-proofing. “With our Delta Cube arrays, we’re able to start off with a customer at a low density, which today averages about five to 10 kW per rack. However, the way that our mechanical structure is deployed enables that customer to then scale up, or in place, without having to maneuver or adjust their infrastructure. They then typically scale to anywhere from the 10kW up to 50 kW a rack. We can incrementally add capacity quickly, and our customers never have to worry about looking for a new space. We call this capability Expand on Demand.”

At the core of Aligned’s bespoke approach is its proprietary cooling technology – Delta CubeTM and CACTUS®. “It could not be any more flexible,” confirms Coleman. “For higher densities than 50 kW per rack, it is also easily integrated with liquid-cooled solutions. The industry really hasn’t standardised around anything, so whatever we do right now will not be a catch all. It would be a unique deployment for an individual customer, which we could accommodate.”

Aligned’s electrical topology, and how it deploys power, is based around a standard offering which is also incredibly flexible. “Many of our customers might have some core systems that require more robust electrical reliability. They might have an N+1 environment for the production equipment and network gear, or more critical systems that are usually deployed in a smaller footprint. These might need to be more robust, whether it’s two-line or double-corded, even with our standardisation around our design, we can easily accommodate those adjustments because of the way that we designed the physical infrastructure.”

Aligned has the ability to offer any type of renewable energy to its customers. In the U.S., more often than not, this green energy is brought in via the utility, but Coleman notes that some of Aligned’s customers are investing directly into wind farms and solar that support their local grid. “Taking this approach, you’re shaping and leading the power. We have experience doing this and are happy to work with them.”

The company’s green approach extends to its cooling system, which is capable of operating using 80% less energy and 85% less water than traditional cooling systems. “There’s the Delta Cube, and we also have a proprietary chiller that we develop and manufacturer – the CACTUS,” reveals Coleman. “The chiller itself runs predominantly on 100% outside air when conditions allow (when dewpoint is low and temperature is in the right range). It’s not until we see adverse conditions, which are not consistent annually, that we activate the adiabatic cooling in the chiller, which does not run all the time.” Coleman notes that adiabatic cooling runs for a fractional number of hours a year compared to the outside air. “When dewpoint becomes an issue or humidity is a little higher and adiabatic isn’t effective, we do have a traditional cooling system that can kick in as well, so we really have all conditions covered.” He maintains the system is designed to run on 100% outside air as much as possible and that reduced energy and water consumption is driving the industry-leading 1.15 PUE that Aligned operates at.

Aligned typically partners with the top five contractors in the U.S. data centre market, drawing on the technical expertise of those who have heavily invested in the talent needed to support mission-critical projects. “Very often, we’re partnered with a large general contractor to establish the original building,” confirms Coleman. “The other reason is the pace that we build at, nine or even six months in some cases, requires enormous cashflow efforts, and a very large workforce. We have a handful of both capital and construction partners capable of supporting that. Once the site is established and you’ve got iterative work, whether it’s multiple additional buildings on the site or additional build down to the shell, we’ve developed partnerships locally. The local MEP contractors and subcontractors are critical alliances for us moving forward to continue the expansion of our operations and be good partners to the communities we work in.”

Aligned’s recipe has resulted in some notable successes. “I’m very impressed with our first building in Salt Lake City. That was a brownfield conversion of a chip plant where we were able to purchase and retrofit the building, as well as get customers deployed there in under a year; that’s almost unheard of in our industry,” says Coleman. “Similarly, based on the way that our infrastructure is designed, we were able to complete our first phase of capacity in Ashburn in about six months, which is the fastest I think I’ve ever seen. Both amazing accomplishments for us.”

Aligned recently secured a $575mm credit facility, which will further support its goals for 2020 with expansion of its adaptable colocation and build-to-scale solutions at current campuses; Salt Lake City and Phoenix expansions are already underway. “We can achieve whatever our customers need. We’re not capital constrained, our partners’ infrastructure funds are not looking for quarterly earning updates and requirements back on their investment. We have the ability to accomplish anything our clients need, which makes the road ahead truly exciting.”

Read the full article HERE.

Documentation Requirements for Supplier- Procured Renewable Energy

Published by: Daniel Brightmore – Feb 05, 2020, 5:24AM

Application of Renewable Energy and GHG Reduction Claims by Downstream Beneficiaries

This white paper outlines the information and documentation that may be required to verify co-located data center (colo) client greenhouse gas inventories as it relates to renewable energy procured by colo vendors for their data centers. The information presented represents the collective understanding of a stakeholder group that includes colo clients, colo vendors and GHG emissions verifiers convened by BSR’s Future of Internet Power in 2018. While the subject of this white paper is the colo data center industry, the findings can be applied to other tenant-landlord scenarios.

Download the white paper HERE.