With the need for data storage booming around the globe, we are on the verge of exponential growth for data centre facilities.
Beginning with digital photography, digital telephony, and video on demand services, followed by the rise of cloud storage and cloud services, and now with the advent of the Internet of Things, the present and future need for storage is infinite. One company poised to meet this demand is Urbacon.
Founded in 1984 as a construction company with a focus on high-end office interiors fit-ups and renovations, the company soon defined a specialization in the particular needs of data centre projects. After 30-plus years in business, the company has expanded its focus in the last few years and embraced a new stage of operations. Incorporating all of the expertise Urbacon has developed over the years with designing, building and managing data centres for third-party clients, it is applying that knowledge to building an inventory of leading edge data centres of its own.
During those early days of office construction, it was common for a corporation to have a server room or small data centre within their headquarters, and so Urbacon often became involved in the construction of these small-scale data storage facilities. The company began expanding its skill set to complete data centre design and quickly developed an expertise in that area. After, it expanded its services to include maintenance work for data centre providers and its technicians found that they were able to help data centre facilities improve operational uptime.
The most important aspect of a data storage facility is availability. These centres need to be running 24 hours a day, which means preventative and operational maintenance is highly critical. The company focused on developing procedures to keep the facilities running even during maintenance periods. With legacy systems, downtime was often unavoidable during maintenance, but its technicians made use of methods that would keep the facilities going throughout.
Soon, Urbacon was involved in the construction, operation, maintenance and management of full-scale data centres for very high profile companies, including major broadcasting corporations and telecommunications outfits, and numerous enterprise scale corporate operations.
The company has designed over 2.5 million square feet and constructed more than 2 million square feet of data centre space throughout its history. Having so much experience designing these facilities for third parties has allowed the company to expand its operation into building and leasing its own. It recently opened its first data centre, known as DC1, in the Barker Business Park Digital Campus in Richmond Hill, Ontario. The facility is a 120,000 square foot, 16-megawatt data centre that is fully leased to a global company. Urbacon delivered that project, from breaking ground to commissioning, in just six months.
“It was quite an accomplishment for us in terms of, not only meeting the expectations of a global fortune 25 company, but also with delivering the product to the client in an accelerated time frame,” says Peter Russell, vice president of property and development management at Urbacon.
The property and development management branch of the company is in charge of property acquisition. Urbacon is primarily a construction company and the function of the development group is to find real estate transactions that will provide more activity to the construction arm of the business. It is responsible for property acquisitions, dispositions and entitlements.
When it comes to data centre construction, there are some unique requirements, and the company’s property and development management group will do site search and selection with this is mind. Urbacon’s experience in this area has given it a special awareness of the needs of these facilities in terms of power requirements, connectivity infrastructure, risk exposure, and other factors unique to the data centre market.
For companies looking to build a new data centre, there are many variables to consider that relate to the centre’s operation. Downtime is costly, and so preventative measures are important. Urbacon’s wealth of experience in data centre construction brings a unique aptitude in choosing sites that are not exposed to unnecessary risk. It knows exactly what to look out for and what to avoid. Hard weather and geological events such as seismic issues are primary concerns, as are flooding, natural hazards and transportation-related risks that could prevent access to the facility. Urbacon selects properties with these considerations in mind.
Coming from a construction and land development background means that Urbacon’s data centre solutions group operates from a position that is unique among its competitors. The company has experts in varied fields, including construction, property acquisition and development, and interiors, and all of these experts can collaborate with the data centre team on every project.
What this translates to from a client’s perspective is that Urbacon is a one-stop shop for everything data centre related.
Often, when a company is in the market for a data centre, it will hire an architect to design the building, consultants to seek out an appropriate location, specialists to design the interior, a construction team to build the facility, and a management team to operate it. Urbacon, however, covers all of these stages.
When a client comes to Urbacon with a project outline, it is equipped to find a suitable site; complete the comparative analysis of all the opportunities available; design and build the facility; and operate and maintain it. Some companies can accommodate many of the component services, but Urbacon is unmatched in its capacity to offer them all.
The company employs about 150 people who work at more than twenty data centres that the company operates, maintains, or owns across Canada.
Operating a data centre has immense environmental implications, and Urbacon works to minimize the impact. It was the first company in North America to utilize the KyotoCooling system in a data centre. KyotoCooling is an innovative development that uses outside air temperatures to provide cooling to the inside of a data centre. It is a sustainable system from an environmental perspective because traditionally data centres use a tremendous amount of energy. A considerable amount of power is used to run the data storage computers, but up to two and a half times that amount of power may be required to cool them.
A large data centre that consumes ten megawatts of power for its servers would often consume an additional ten to fifteen megawatts of energy to keep the computers cold enough for peak operational performance. One megawatt of power is enough to power about 1,000 homes. Reducing power consumption is an important step in the evolution of the modern data centre and the KyotoCooling system is a fundamental aspect of Urbacon’s dedication to energy saving solutions and environmental initiatives.
The facilities that it designs, builds, and owns have a maximum power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.2. PUE is a widely accepted benchmarking standard proposed by Green Grid as a measure of energy efficiency for data centres, and 1.2 represents the highest level of efficiency that can be scored using this system. In the example used earlier of a data centre that uses ten megawatts to power its computers, only an additional 2 megawatts of power would be used to cool them with a 1.2 PUE. That is a considerable reduction in energy use, which translates to lower costs at the bottom line and an environmentally sustainable operation into the future.
Key to Urbacon’s success is a commitment to innovation. Staying at the leading edge brings a powerful advantage in terms of quality and sustainability. Clients are often concerned about being early-adopters of new technology because things are unproven and untested. This often results in new technical initiatives that are cost-saving, energy-saving, and higher quality, are slow to enter the marketplace. The company has been highly successful bringing these new technologies into the market place by doing the work of analyzing and testing them to remove the risk for its clients. “We stay aware of new products and new methodologies,” says Russell. “We pride ourselves on being able to take the risk out of being an early adopter of new technologies.”
In the data storage industry, demand is burgeoning at an unprecedented rate. As the world continues to become more connected and industry evolves to accommodate those interconnections, data storage will continue to grow exponentially. “That demand has not yet been met with bricks and mortar supply,” says Russell. “We are responsive to that demand. We’re able to provide a speed to market that is unprecedented in the industry.”
It is this factor that attracted Equinix – the world’s largest data centre and colocation provider – to set up its 225,000-square foot TR2 Toronto data centre in an Urbacon developed facility. Ron Carinci, Chief Operating Officer at Urbacon said, “When Equinix needed a world class facility in Toronto, we were ready to deliver.”
Urbacon also recently reached substantial completion on a 260,000-square-foot multi-storey data centre in downtown Montreal. This is the first purpose-built data centre in an area that has historically been served by retrofit facilities that often cannot facilitate the requirements of an efficient operation. This new centre is a clear demonstration of Urbacon’s role in the future of data storage in Canada.
“We have a short-term development pipeline for new data centre space in the Canadian marketplace of over 575,000 square feet,” says Marco Mancini, president and CEO of Urbacon. “We’re taking everything that we’ve learned in the past 30 years and applying that to provide the best solutions to our clients’ requirements now and into the future.”