Thursday, 28 March 2013

Hong Kong Creating Underground Data Centre Environment

In Hong Kong, it appears as though they are preparing to take their data centres underground. It has nothing to do with China by the way, nor is it an effort to achieve any sinister plans in one of the Orient's most technologically advanced cities. Rather, moving data centres to underground facilities is a way to take advantage of what Hong Kong naturally has to offer in the midst of a dwindling real estate supply.

According to Hilary Cordells, a Hong Kong real estate law firm partner, plans to create new underground data centres are already in motion. Cordells revealed the plans in a recent speech at the Datacentre Space Asia Conference. She said the government is already engaging in creating rock caverns that would be ideal for a number of purposes, including housing data centres.

The main advantage of an underground data centre is one of security. The further one goes underground, the more difficult a facility is to physically penetrate. It's also deemed much safer in the event of military conflict. In terms of power and cooling needs, solutions already exist thanks to technologies developed during the Cold War.

According to Cordells, some of the legal issues of property ownership still have to be worked out. She told the assembled audience that Hong Kong property owners technically own everything underground, to the centre of the earth, which would include any caverns constructed beneath their land.

One possible solution would be to create a legal framework that would divide subterranean areas into different levels of ownership. Another possible solution would see data centre companies own the infrastructure and facilities but rent the cavern space from a landowner via a traditional lease agreement. Whatever the arrangement, it's likely the courts in Hong Kong will be tied up with these questions for years.

From the perspective of the data centre owner, there are other problems as well. First of all, construction will be much more expensive as will management and maintenance. There will be issues to deal with including the location of water tables, routing and re-routing the existing civil infrastructure, and dealing with waste materials produced underground.

Other Possible Options

While underground data centres certainly are an intriguing idea, there do not seem to be enough advantages to outweigh the disadvantages. In fact, one must wonder whether there are other options in Hong Kong that could be explored. The problem with the city is that there is nowhere else to build but up or down. The lack of available real estate means lateral construction is certainly out of the question.

It is true that the earth underneath the surface of the city is very stable and well suited for underground construction. In the absence of any other options it seems that going underground is an acceptable strategy to pursue. However, if other options exist -- options like offshore platforms and re-purposing existing buildings -- it would be prudent to take a serious look at them first.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Hampshire Residents All but Guaranteed Access to Fibre

Residents and business in Hampshire, England have plenty to be pleased about now that BT has signed a deal securing an additional £13.8 million of combined funding from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and other sources; funding that will all but guarantee almost everyone has access to super-fast fibre broadband. Those who don't have access to fibre will still enjoy speeds of at least 2 Mbps with their service.

The new round of funding is just the latest BT has been able to secure in their push to bring super-fast broadband to the Hampshire area. It comes by way of agreement with the Hampshire County Council (HCC). According to officials with the HCC, their involvement was critical in securing the funding. They claim that, without their action, more than 20% of the county's homes would not have had optical fibre access; with the funding, that number is reduced to roughly 10%.

As the package currently stands both the BDUK and HCC will provide £5 million each while BT will make up the £3.8 million difference. The Hampshire County funding will be a joint effort between the Council and its district and boroughs. All of the partners agreed together that the necessity of bringing super-fast broadband to the area was critical both economically and culturally.

With the funding secured, BT will now start working on putting together necessary infrastructure for residential and commercial networking. If all goes as planned, the project should be complete sometime in 2015. Among some of the earliest to get the new service will be a handful of the 24 economic development zones set up to spur local economic growth. One example is the Solent Enterprise Zone in Daedalus. Currently there are some 19,000 homes and businesses signed up to be part of the fast program; more are expected to follow in the near future.

Coming Together in England

The news from Hampshire County is welcome but not necessarily unexpected. Both the industry and government partners have been pressing hard to bring super-fast technology to the area for quite a while. What's more, England leads the way in Europe in implementing optical fibre networks, most notably in and around the Greater London area.

In a nutshell, optical fibre is all coming together across England much to the delight of both service providers and their customers. As more communities are getting connected, England is becoming the place to be in the UK for IT technology.

How long it takes the rest of Europe to catch up is something that remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this is a golden opportunity for data centre companies and service providers to set the agenda that will guide the industry for at least the next decade. It is also a great opportunity for English companies to establish themselves as the premier provider of fibre infrastructure and networks. In so doing they will be poised to grab a larger share of the European market as fibre technology expands.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

New Bahnhof Data Centres Push the Envelope

In the world of datacentre news, there are many interesting developments being reported on every day. Some stand out more than others do, as is the case with some recent announcements coming out of Sweden's Bahnhof. As a cutting-edge ISP company, Bahnhof's claim to fame is coming up with extraordinary and somewhat eccentric data centre designs that often include re-purposing vacant buildings.

Their latest plan involves converting a former natural gas storage facility that is now more than 100 years old. According to reports, the Stockholm-area gasometer was erected in 1893 as a huge, five-story storage tank for natural gas. The brick and steel structure is incredibly solid as well as being aesthetically pleasing thanks to its exposed, wooden beam interior ceiling structure.

An important part of Bahnhof's operating model is to go well beyond just IT services and hosting by supplying vented heat to community-based heating systems. The gasometer project will harness exhaust heat and return it to Stockholm's district heating and cooling system. Not only is the plan environmentally friendly but it lets the company earn additional revenues from heat that would normally be vented into the atmosphere.

While the new Stockholm project is unique, it is just the latest in a long line of innovative Bahnhof projects. One of their other data centres currently under construction sits atop an already existing building owned and operated by Swedish energy company Fortum. Exhaust heat from the centre will be pumped down to the building underneath. Bahnhof has also built data centres in other unusual places such as a former nuclear bunker underneath bustling Stockholm streets.

As for the gasometer project, Bahnhof plans to install thousands of servers there and make them available to large IT companies with extensive hardware requirements. The architecture of the building will provide the large areas of open space needed for maximum efficiency.

Leading the Way in Innovative Design

As time goes by it is becoming more apparent that just offering a traditional data centre with IT and collocation capabilities is not going to be enough. Companies that want to remain on the cutting edge will have to embrace green ideas like re-purposing old buildings and harnessing exhaust heat.

The projects undertaken by Bahnhof act as an exhibition, demonstrating the things that can be accomplished with a little bit of imagination and a desire to push the boundaries. Companies that do these sorts of things are leading the way with new technologies like modular data centres and environmentally friendly power options and cooling systems.

While a former five-story natural gas holding tank may not be the first thing one thinks of when deciding where to build a new data centre, thinking outside the box demonstrates the facility is a perfect fit. If it's successful - and we have no reason to believe it won't be - it opens the door for re-purposing all sorts of vacant buildings including underground storage facilities, manufacturing buildings, etc.

It certainly is an exciting time to be in the data centre business!

Monday, 18 March 2013

UK Government Launches another Cybercrime Initiative

When it comes to fighting cybercrime, the UK government has proven that it's very good at one thing: launching new initiatives to try to combat the problem effectively. The latest initiative comes by way of a government/academic partnership designed to bring together various experts who will collaborate to fight cybercrime.

The initiative was recently announced by James Brokenshire, Minister for Security at the Home Office.  Mr Brokenshire said that he would be chairing a meeting along with Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts to launch what is being called the Cybercrime Reduction Partnership.

Beyond announcing the meeting, Brokenshire didn't give any further details except to say the project will "provide a new forum in which government, law enforcement, industry and academia can regularly come together to tackle cybercrime more effectively.”  Details of the meeting's other attendees or the agenda have not been released.

Later this month the Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership (CISP) will be launched.  These latest partnerships are two on a long list of government initiatives that include the new UK National Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) and the National Crime Agency's National Cyber Crime Unit.

If nothing else, the government's latest actions prove they are committed to doing at least something about the issue of cybercrime.  Whether or not new initiatives actually accomplish anything productive remains to be seen.  If each of the initiatives can effectively reach the goals set for them then there is hope that real, quantifiable work will be done.

A Comprehensive National Policy

All politics aside, the recent government actions are important developments for the world of cyber security.  Plenty of white papers have been written, symposiums have been held, and professionals in IT services have talked and talked.  Now it's time to put all of it into action through a comprehensive national policy that will actively go after cyber criminals while at the same time safeguarding the digital security of each of the country's citizens.

The need for government action is especially important in light of the current cloud-computing environment.  While Europe lags behind the United States in cloud implementation, the sector in the UK has been aggressively pursuing the cloud market in order to catch up.  The nature of cloud computing requires a comprehensive security strategy if it is going to fly.  Hopefully the plethora of government initiatives will be key to setting and implementing that strategy.

While the government works on cybercrime issues, it is up to the private sector to continue developing better methods of security for the cloud environment.  Such methods will include advanced hardware and technology, targeted software, and a continual development of IT practises designed to keep data safe.

Cybercrime and cyber security are two issues that will never completely go away however enough steps are being taken to provide consumers the confidence they need to embrace the digital age and cloud computing with complete confidence.  Thanks to the efforts of dedicated IT professionals, we'll all remain relatively safe.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Smartphone Users Get Hit With Roaming Charges at the White Cliffs of Dover

The famous white cliffs of Dover are as popular with tourists as they are with residents, but visitors to the Kent attraction have been getting a nasty surprise when using their smartphones – they have been unwittingly racking up roaming charges.

Mobile phone users in the picturesque seaside village of St Margaret-at-Cliffe and St Margaret's bay, located at the foot of the white cliffs and just 18 miles from the French Coast have reported frequently receiving ‘Welcome to France’ messages and incurring extra costs thanks to a switch of network.

Smartphone users have been hit with costly roaming charges because of being redirected onto French networks such as SFR, Orange France, and Bouygues Telecom – a problem that residents say has been present in the villages for a number of years.

Local resident and landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant Nigel Wydymus spoke to The Guardian about the problem, saying: “It did not cause a huge amount of trouble for a few years because you got a message saying 'Welcome to France', but since smartphones have come in it's more of a problem.

“Obviously people strolling along the beach in England do not expect to be on a French network and so, unlike when they get off the plane in Spain or elsewhere, they haven't switched off their data roaming and it causes some extra bills.”

French network coverage in the village is dependent on the weather and atmospheric conditions and is described as intermittent; however, at beach level the signal becomes more constant with the cliffs blocking out signal from UK operators completely.

The result of this means that making and receiving phone calls and texts is significantly higher than on domestic networks, sometimes up to four times as much. And with the advent of smartphones and the amount of data that such devices consume, the problem has come to a head.

No solution

It is thought that all UK carriers are affected by this problem and, although smartphone users are able to counter the data-roaming problem by turning it off, nothing can be done about the calls and texts being sent over French networks and the subsequent charges as a result. Naturally, residents – sick of the extra charges and inconvenience – have called upon UK carriers to resolve the problem, only to be told that the issue is apparently out of their control.

While it seems the locals and tourists of the white cliffs are stuck with this problem for the foreseeable future, they can take some heart from the fact that roaming has become cheaper thanks to new rules introduced last year by the EU, which forced carriers to reduce the prices of making calls and downloading data abroad.  

Monday, 11 March 2013

BT’s Fibre Expansion Creates 1000 Jobs

British Telecom’s continued roll out of fibre in the UK has brought great news to the unemployed by creating 1000 new jobs.

As part of its broadband expansion, BT will enlist a new workforce of fibre engineers to help lay fibre for projects partly funded by Broadband Development UK (BBUK) – the organisation behind the improving of broadband in Britain. BBUK are distributing in excess of £500 million of public money in broadband services and BT has won every bid to date, contributing 40% of its own money in fibre expansion.

The 1000 jobs created will add to the 1500 engineers already recruited by Britain’s largest telecommunications company and will see 400 apprentices, 200 former armed forces personnel, and 400 of the UK’s unemployed taken on in fibre installation.

BT’s ongoing £2.5 million investment in fibre and the subsequent creation of jobs has been welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron, who talked about the news during his speech on the economy in Keighley, Yorkshire.

“I warmly welcome the announcement from BT today. Working with business, the Government is driving a transformation in UK broadband services and with an extra 100,000 homes and businesses gaining superfast broadband availability each week, this is already taking shape,” said Mr Cameron.
“Providing much faster broadband speeds, and enabling millions more homes and businesses to enjoy these speeds is vital for driving investment and equipping the UK to compete and thrive in the global race.”

BT has created the largest fibre broadband of its kind in the UK, providing high-speed internet access to more than 13 million properties across the country. The apprentices taken on in the new recruitment drive will benefit greatly from the opportunity, receiving training over a two-and-a-half year period and gaining a BTEC diploma in ICT systems. For the first year of the course, apprentices will focus on installing fibre connections in the homes of BT customers, before going on to learn the full range of engineering tasks. Maths, English, and ICT training will also be given – all of which BT says is essential to progress within the company.

Leading the way

BT is confident that their investment, along with funding from the government’s BBUK programme, will help establish Britain as one of the leading broadband nations in Europe.

“We remain highly confident that fibre can be provided to more than 90 per cent of UK homes and businesses, making the UK a global digital leader,” said BT’s chief executive Ian Livingston.

“Faster broadband will help to fuel the UK economy and the jobs we are creating are part of that.”
The Openreach arm of BT will be responsible for the roll out of fibre, carrying on the company’s commitment to add 99 exchanges to a further 1.2 million premises across the country. These will comprise of Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) and Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) technologies, which combined will offer download speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps.

Openreach will also deal with recruitment, working with the Ministry of Defence and the Careers Transition Partnership to attract former members of the armed forces.