What are the challenges of running a data centre in central London?

City Lifeline throws us a few clues


Located in Tech City's Shoreditch area, City Lifeline is the second-longest established data centre in the UK. It began by providing business continuity services for firms located in the capital before becoming a major centre for telecommunications, and in later years, the internet.

A Tier 3-rated co-location data centre that's carrier neutral, City Lifeline has run up against some interesting challenges since being founded in 1993 - from making the most of limited space in a highly built-up area to ensuring that equipment doesn't keep local residents up at night.

We spoke to Roger Keenan, MD at CityLifeline, to find out more.

TRP: What are the challenges to running a data centre in central London?

Roger Keenan: We're right in the middle of London and we're also in a residential area, which means that we have to be very careful about what do. It means that things like diesel generators have to be heavily silenced, which we've achieved by finding a very good acoustic designer who did a first class job. When you're generating a megawatt of power inside the units, you just close the door and it sounds like an ice-cream van from the outside. It's very quiet.

Generating high power at low volume

TRP: How has the limited space you have in built-up central London impact data centre design?

RK: We're right slap in the middle of London next to Old Street Roundabout in the middle of Shoreditch and Tech City, which means that the rent and rates are very expensive - and going up.

It means that space utilisation is very important for us. If we use half a floor on a plant room, that's half a floor of dead space that could've been used for customers' equipment, so we want to use every square inch. To use the data centre's cooling systems as an example, the best way for us to do that is by using a DX-based system.

Alternatives such as free air handling systems, evaporative or other kinds of systems that move large volumes of air slowly take up a lot of space and are inflexible when you want to change things around. With DX systems you're moving the heat around on a little pipe that's around 5mm in diameter, and the amount of space you need on the indoor and outdoor units is very small, so it gives us the maximum utilisation of space.

TRP: Shoreditch has become something of a fashionable area in recent times. Has that helped the business at all?

RK: It brings in sales enquiries and means people are more aware of us, but the fact that City Lifeline is the data centre for Tech City helps us more. We haven't seen people battering the door down because we're in Shoreditch demanding to put their equipment in our data centre, but we've got good business out of it. The people tend to deal with aren't tiny web startups, but more larger Blue Chip corporates, typically medium-sized ones with 50 to 500 people.

Racking up colo customers

TRP: Does being where you are make it difficult to expand?

RK: Believe it or not we're also in a conservation area, meaning you can't do certain things. If you're in the middle of a field in Wales you can put anything up you like - nobody's going to object. If we put in for planning permission here for something that was ugly and industrial, it would get turned down, so we have to take a lot of care with that.

Whatever we do has to be aesthetically right and acoustically right. These days, it also has to meet new things like pollution requirements as well. When the old diesel generators were put in, it was acceptable to churn vast amounts of black smoke across London whenever it started. You wouldn't get planning permission for that today, and quite rightly too.