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Automation: Data Centres Are The Low Hanging Fruit

Visit a telecom facility or a data centre, and the Network Operation Centre (NOC) tour is mandatory. Data Centres show off earnest young techies who stare intently at screens while we stare at them; then go back to playing Minecraft once we’re gone.

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Now to Asia where HGC is rapidly creating a connected data centre cluster. The only way to stabilize so many mergers, acquisitions and builds is through similar automation and a central command for operations and engineering

Braham Singh
COO – IDC & Associated Business, HGC

Visit a telecom facility or a data centre, and the Network Operation Centre (NOC) tour is mandatory. Data Centres show off earnest young techies who stare intently at screens while we stare at them; then go back to playing Minecraft once we’re gone.

What happens when there’s no NOC to show off? I recently visited an Etix Everywhere facility in Lille, France. Etix Everywhere has data centres across Western Europe, Africa and Latin America. The facility in Lille is an edge data centre. I am used to the big ones like the 80MW block of concrete we brought to market in New Mumbai over the course of my last job. However, in terms of high tech, the New Mumbai monolith was Stone Age compared to this wee, under half a megawatt facility in a small town, north of France.

For starters, there were no security personnel. You receive an email from Etix Everywhere’s NOC; you go online before the visit and download an RT image that’s scanned at the gate. Forgot to do it? Just show an ID to the camera looking at you and the attached printer spewed out your RT identification to scan and be allowed in. Once inside the data centre, the same RT image allows you into areas you are permitted, and denies entry where you’re not.

All this time, not a single security guard anywhere. “None?” I asked my escort.

“None.” And being stymied for so many years by EU labour laws, there was this moment of guilty pleasure I tried not to savour.

I was told my tour was being managed from the NOC. But there would be no NOC tour because it was at Luxembourg a good three hundred and forty kilometres away. One central NOC, managing all of their data centre spread across Western Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Now to Asia where HGC is rapidly creating a connected data centre cluster. The only way to stabilize so many mergers, acquisitions and builds is through similar automation and a central command for operations and engineering. And as our friends in Europe show us, no more than a couple of facilities managers in each site.

The main challenge to automation is mindset. I once had a head of IT advise against project management software and to use Excel and PowerPoint instead, because, “everything anyway needs to be converted to Excel.” Such a mindset amongst otherwise sophisticated colleagues and customers leads to interesting situations. In many cases, automated data centres employ on-site people in uniform to provide a sense of security to customers whose business is protected by a Central NOC somewhere else. In a few years, airlines may well employ pilots for the same reason.

Like power, connectivity is critical to any data centre. Automated, Software Defined Networks (SDNs) like HGC’s, transform a centralized NOC into the focal point for connectivity. Whether a rack, power or Internet related issue, one can monitor and act. A data centre resting on one’s fiber does very well as our own experience demonstrates. On-net is the magic word that reduces operating expenses, allowing that much more revenue to rain down on earnings. So does automation. No harm belabouring that point. As long as the associated capital investment doesn’t mess with your rate of return, automation invariably fattens the bottom line by reducing operating costs.

The question then arises, how does all this augur for the security people being replaced and the NOC employees not needed? Not well. This is the conundrum of our times, with machines now checking us out from supermarkets and checking us in to airplanes. I don’t have an answer other than to make sure our kids go STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) at school.

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