In order to get inside Datum’s data facility in Hampshire you have to navigate a myriad of security checks and take a trip through a device that bears an uncanny resemblance to a transporter out of Star Trek (feel free to insert Scotty jokes here.) But with hindsight this is hardly surprising, after all over the past few years these buildings have been converted from testing sites used by the Ministry of Defence into offices, power generating space and data storage facilities. FMJ went to find out more
Before Datum took over in 2012 several innocuous buildings on Cody Technology Park were occupied by QinetiQ, experts in defence, aerospace and security.
The previous occupants were responsible for conducting research on behalf of the MoD into things as varied as testing human performance under various conditions, jet performance, fireproofing, there is even a tower, still visible, where crash helmets would be hurtled toward the ground to test their strength.
FMJ was almost surprised that Q from the James Bond film series wasn’t still wandering the halls testing laser pens.
QinetiQ still inhabit several other buildings on the site, which goes a long way to explaining the security in place. (You get the impression that any visitor who managed to give their escort the slip would wake up six months later on a beach in the Pacific with no teeth or fingerprints).
But how did such a distinctive facility ever become what it has now?
Datum, when seeking out potential sites to set up their latest data facility inspected seven or eight sites of which Cody Technology Park was easily the best. QinetiQ’s continued presence offered huge security reassurance to both Datum and their clients (more on that later) and the size and layout of the buildings was also suitable to their needs.
One structure was home to hyperbaric chambers and science labs, but was easy to convert into a data centre as it was “completely gutted.” It offered a huge amount of space over two floors and walls, which are extremely thick.
The office block was originally a sleep research lab, and the energy centre played host to a world record breaking unmanned solar aircraft. There was even a Harrier jump jet simulator on site. As you do. Finally many of the walls are lead lined, which, FMJ is told, comes in handy during employee appraisals.
The work already undertaken is impressive, but the project is far from over with Hall 2 already under construction. Further expansion will be undertaken as required, but Datum envision four independent data halls. The first phase of four halls provides an initial 250 rack positions with an average and maximum IT load of 3.5kw and 20kw per rack respectively. The second hall will mirror that and when fully complete the data centre will deliver a total of 1,000 racks and more than 40,000 sq ft of net technical space.
For the moment the space that will be worked on during phases three and four remains “gutted.” But there is a rationale behind this. “It would be unwise to do all the work in one phase,” explains Andy Hayes, director at Keysource. “As progress occurs so quickly in the world of technology. We could set up three data halls that we don’t yet need, only to find that they are out of date when they actually are necessary. Much better to design and build them to the latest specifications when the time comes.”
For example, FMJ is told how, traditionally all IT systems have been cooled using standard air systems, however it is possible that in the future water based systems will become the standard. That would require the fitting of a lot of under-floor pipe work. It is clearly bad sense to set up data halls that in five years time might need the floors raised to fit this.
This becomes a lot more complex when you think about the technology itself. Hayes explains: “We have to future proof our equipment based on what advances are likely to be made. IT will change in the next year, beyond recognition in the next three to five, yet this facility will have to be around for 20 years.”
Datum itself came about as a way for established firm Attenda to provide a service based approach to storing their own data, rather than having to go through third parties who weren’t meeting their needs. Datum handle the user experience, hardware, network and the data itself.