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Critical Role for FM

17 September 2008

As our world becomes entwined with the internet at home, at work and at play, so the role of the FM has
become enmeshed in supporting the resilience of the datacentres that grind the data. Jane Fenwick explains how BT’s datacentres are supported by Monteray

WHETHER AT HOME, OR AT WORK ON THE INTERNET WE expect instant connectivity. Frustration builds when sites load slowly or emails take ages to send and what about when we want to watch a programme on BBCi, only to find we don’t have the requisite bandwidth?

Business is dependent on virtual data storage as well as the internet. Banks and insurance companies store our records electronically so their staff can access them from any office for example, and intranets are the tools for internal communication. All of these situations affect our experience as a customer of a datacentre.

What role is FM playing to keep the wheels of cyber space spinning? At BT, the FM role has grown and developed over the last few years to meet the needs of its Datacentres. BT is one of the largest providers of outsourced computer services running 12 data centres across the UK – totalling 30,000sq m. Not only is BT providing an environment for customers’ servers, and organisations that use BT to host and manage their IT provision, but also for their own internal systems and their own broadband, archive and digital stores provided to consumers.

But consider this; even 30,000sq m isn’t enough space. Building a new datacentre is complicated. Like any critical building location is extremely important. Any prospective site must have easy access to power and data and, of course, the supply will need to be more robust and available than for a traditional office building.

The only solution for more capacity is to increase the density of servers housed in datacentres and the only way you can do that is by reviewing the ratio of watts to square metres. The current rule of thumb applied stands at 1,000 watts/sq m. To serve the needs of the future, the ratio needs to increase to as much as 3,000 watts/sq m. Although technically possible, one factor remains a red flag for anyone in the business - servers do not like the heat and the more servers you have in the room the more heat is generated.

Maintaining a consistent ambient temperature, along with a constant level of humidity are key to keeping the service going. If the density of servers were to increase then the air conditioning has to be increased to match. All of these technical business critical requirements you may argue fly in the face of the challenges of rising energy costs, the need to conserve precious resource and reducing the carbon footprint. This is part of the conundrum that is the datacentre.

To understand the FM solution for this enormous estate we have to go back in time. In 2000, BT implemented an outsource solution to manage the FM service delivery to over 7,000 buildings across Great Britain and to rationalise the 230 major supplier agreements that were in place. Monteray Ltd, was created as a joint venture company between Carillion Services (51%), Haden Building Management (24.5%) and
Reliance Facilities Management (24.5%). In 2001, BT awarded a groundbreaking contract for FM services to Monteray Ltd. Recently, a new contract has been awarded for the delivery of FM services from April 2009. There is a possibility with the extension clause that this successful partnership could continue to run over the next 10 years.

The BT estate is diverse and complex. It includes offices, data centres, research centres, telephone engineering centres, transport workshops, telephone exchanges and the landmark BT Tower in London. A flexible model has been absolutely critical. The partnership’s success is largely due to a unique collaborative relationship between what are effectively openmarket competitors and BT’s vision to create an
FM solution to support highly challenging corporate objectives. This has been particularly important in terms of developing services that support the datacentres.

In the beginning no significant difference was applied to the FM service provision delivered by Monteray for a datacentre than for any other manned building. The general range of services was applied and the M&E provision, although a more significant activity for a datacentre, was not delivered any differently than it was to an office building.

However that was set to change. Datacentres became more critical to BT’s competitive position in the market. Driven by an increased use of technology in the home and for business, suddenly datacentres are at the forefront of what BT does for a living. In fact all of BT’s divisions or lines of business are reliant on consistent service performance from the datacentre.

Monteray worked with BT to build teams that would have specialist knowledge of datacentres and there is now a Monteray team of over 100 people dedicated to providing FM services to datacentres for BT reporting both to BT Property and BT Operate. They meet formally on a monthly basis to ensure that both the technical
and broader property related issues are incorporated into performance and the development of the service.

Even cleaners need to be specialists to clean a datacentre. They need to understand where they are working and the impact of, for example, a spillage on a hall floor in a datacentre. Work instructions for cleaning a have been drawn up to reflect the sensitivity of equipment and the cleaners who work in datacentres are all trained in using the specially rated equipment. Deep cleans that regularly feature as part of the service provision.

Although security is delivered by Reliance, Monteray still manages the 24hour manned guarding provision. This is because there is such a close working relationship between the engineers and the guards. Out of hours, the guards are trained so they can recognise and respond to the automated alarm system alerting
the relevant engineer to attend site. The Monteray engineers also maintain all of the security equipment. They are based on site so can immediately respond to any problem rather than relying on a call out service.

As most outages of service start with a power failure it seemed logical to start by creating a M&E planned preventative maintenance regime that considered the criticality of power, heat and humidity to consistent service. Monteray has been recruiting a team of engineers who don’t just understand traditional HVAC systems but are expert electronics engineers as well. In fact a more apt description is a technician.

A BT datacentre doesn’t just require a new breed of technician, but a different attitude to service provision. As any maintenance work has to be undertaken without interrupting service for customers, their role is to negotiate with all the customers in the datacentre to find a time to suit everyone. So the job requires excellent
communication skills and a real understanding of the users of the datacentres. In fact, the BT team often asks the Monteray technicians to meet prospective customers so that they hear directly about how the resilience is maintained at the centre.

BT and Monteray understand that the challenges placed on maintaining power, temperature and humidity are becoming more critical and complex. BT needs to be constantly thinking about the shape of their datacentre provision and at the heart of this is a constant dialogue between BT and the Monteray datacentre teams.

Collaboration in this critical environment is an imperative. For example, BT maintains an open dialogue with air conditioning manufacturers so that new solutions can be found to cool more efficiently and strive to solve the increased wattage/sq m ratio. Monteray is part of that dialogue because BT recognises that maintenance over the life cycle is just as critical as the installation and performance for gains in efficiency.

The environmental impact of datacentres presents a challenge, and BT and Monteray have several initiatives underway. A new CHP system to generate electricity has been installed in one datacentre, new lighting technologies are being trialed in others, and the preventative maintenance regime ensures equipment is working to maximum efficiency. The reality is that no one can take a risk with an environment
like this, so any new process or product for increasing energy efficiency has to be tested to the limit in a non-critical environment before it will be adopted.

Martin Steele, Head of Service Delivery in BT Property said, ‘Increasing energy demand in understandably, power hungry data centres, combined with escalating energy prices mean we have to look elsewhere within our estate to off-set cost increases and potential uplifts in CO2 emissions. Collaborative effort, increasingly,
becomes a business imperative with, for instance, specialist teams such as BT Energy, BT Property and Monteray working jointly to deliver a series of energy efficiency initiatives that will contribute to the business hitting its CO2 emission and energy saving targets.’

We live in a demand-driven world and datacentres are supporting part of that. I reflect on this sobering thought as with drink in hand (delivered by Tesco Direct,) I lie back on my sofa (purchased from John Lewis on- line) to watch the latest episode of CSI (playing through my TV set top box) and browse the latest Kathy Reichs (recommended by Amazon).

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