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Data on the Roof

14 March 2008

Harrods found a solution on top of the world famous department store to house its growing datacentre needs. Frank Booty describes decision to site its datacentre the shop, its airport retail outlets and Fulham football club on high

ANOVEL, PRACTICALLY UNIQUE, PROBLEM recently presented itself at Harrods in Knightsbridge. There were two data centre rooms in the basement – one next door to a food preparation room and the other located beneath a rather large fish tank. Both were prone to flooding.

Harrods was in a quandary. The flagship department store required a modern data centre capable of handling the rigorous demands of a key retail operation, from EPoS, supply chain and HR, to stores and purchasing data. But where could the store locate such an asset in the highly sought after area of Knightsbridge?

A tender was issued, the underlying thrust being that Harrods was looking for innovation in any replies it received. Three companies were short-listed and on365 secured the near £1m contract.

Having established itself over the past 20 years as a major force in data centre and enterprise power protection, Universal Power Systems has evolved along with its customer requirements into a brand new company – on365. Officially launched at the 2007 Datacentre Dynamics show in London last November, on365 is now trading as a turnkey supplier of data centre solutions.

John Dilkes, Harrods network infrastructure and security manager, says, “We had been operating with the two facilities in the basement for about seven years. What faced us was whether we should upgrade the rooms and keep them running? Do we run them from an outsourcing supplier? Should we build a new environment? Upgrading was a possibility, but there was no room for extension and the environment was not suitable – although there is the potential for on365 to build special containers for these rooms to act as switching hubs. Outsourcing the operation was not acceptable to Harrods senior management. The 130 year old Harrods building has six floors visible above ground and seven floors below ground for warehousing. But there was no server room potential. It was already structurally difficult to resolve.”

So what did on365 suggest? Build a data centre on the roof. Dilkes continues: “There was a suitable location, adjacent to the main flagpole, but it was occupied by a timber structure serving as the canteen for the many contractors working here. We moved the canteen further back and had to some structural work to prepare steel beams to support on365’s data centre. We did all the work over two weekends to lift the structure into place. There was no impact to the store.”

Over time Harrods has had various reinforced steel pillars installed throughout the building and the on365 cabins (painted Harrods green) are mounted on raised steel beams attached at strategic points to the steel supporting beams running down through the building. The location is directly above the sports department.

As on365 sales and marketing director, Chris Smith, explained, “We welded our frame to the existing steel supports. There are six sections to the building, which has a 35 year minimum design life and a low maintenance finish. Each section was prefabricated to ISO 9001 levels of quality by Rollalong at its factory in Poole, Dorset. There are high levels of insulation and air conditioning units have also been fitted.”

All maintenance and engineering tasks are performed from the outside. Also, potential for growth has been anticipated – special metal plates have been fixed to the walls, so for example if an extra air conditioning unit were to be required, the work could be done externally and a plate removed at the last moment – there would be no preliminary disruption in the centre itself.

The centre is divided into three areas: the ‘bridge’ or network operations centre where there are two operators and one supervisor (operations are run 24x7); the data hall, where the blade servers, storage area networks (SANs) and communications equipment are located in two racks, with one cold aisle and two hot aisles; and the plant room.

“There are two separate power feeds for the centre,” explained Smith. “These are backed up with n+1 uninterruptible power supply generators. Harrods generates 70 per cent of its electricity by its engine rooms located on the subterranean floors capable of producing 7 to 11MW of power. Typical uses are store lighting and cooling needs. There are now two 600A supplies. Fibre optic cables – with extra redundancy – are fed throughout the building, down to the two former data centres in the basement. It is feasible we could supply Harrods with two structures, fabricated in a similar way to the data centre on the roof, locate them in the basement and utilise them as premises distribution units. It’s a distinct possibility.”

The issue of disaster recovery has yet to be resolved. All operations are run from Knightsbridge and include Fulham football club, and the Heathrow and other airport retail outlets, but not the harrods.com operation which is handled elsewhere. There is a distribution centre at Osterley, Middlesex a that uses state of the art technology to house over 20,000 units of merchandise awaiting delivery to the store or to customers. The Crown Court distribution centre which opened in 2003 at the back of the store in Knightsbridge has warehousing on seven underground storeys and was described as "the most complex building project in Europe” when being constructed. A fleet of some 40 delivery vehicles can make up to 1,000 deliveries every week.

There has been a suggestion of setting up a DR suite elsewhere within the Knightsbridge building, but given the paucity of space already encountered, plus the fact that setting up a DR operation on the same site as the key resource is not seen as good practice, it is not seen as having any successful outcome. It’s an ongoing issue.

From signing the initial contract to starting building work took 12 weeks. From then it took four weeks before the first server was loaded. The links with Harrods FM team are with any electrical work and aspects of M&E.

On365 provides support capabilities that encompass design, installation, integrated system testing, network integration, on-site maintenance and audit and review services. “We don’t have anyone on-site at Harrods permanently, but we are on-call at any time,” says Smith.

“Anyone paying a visit to Harrods will not be able to see the on365 data centre,” says Dilkes. “But in making a purchase they will be enjoying its effect.”

More info
www.on365.co.uk

● Frank Booty is a freelance writer


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