Data City Exchange is targeting regional markets with long term contracts and its own modular data center design

Data centers have always come in different shapes and sizes, but in recent years it is the packaging of the sell that has really marked a significant shift in the way the industry pushes its wares. New technologies have paved the way for modular designs, and new approaches to the network have altered the landscape for data center players.

In the UK, those seen to be entering this new territory, especially those operating outside of the M25 – the ring road that circles London – seem to be taking the most risks. Placing data centers in locations far flung in relation to the national data center hub, many of these providers are dabbling in new ways to approach the market. Some are targeting local businesses with proximity-based services, others are altering sales models altogether.

DCE – or Data City Exchange – is just one example of the UK’s new kids on the block. It is offering companies willing to sign up to long-term contracts and purchase an entire POD (a data center in a container) the opportunity to create their own data center environment, wherever in the world it may be required.

The formation of DCE

The company may be new but founders of the privately funded company CEO John Eland and CTO
Tim Chambers have actually been around this block for some time. Eland’s background is in the sale of telecoms and managed service networks. Chambers previously worked as a technical sales engineer in the financial sector.

“We met around eight years ago and had a blue-sky conversation, as you do, bemoaning employers and asking why no one ever did what the customers wanted,” Eland says. “We thought wouldn’t it be good if you could use all the fiber in the world, connect it up to the data centers as core distribution nodes. And that was very much where the key concept came from.”

About four years ago Chambers was approached by a bank he was working for concerned it could not keep building out its own sites. It asked him for ideas. That was the beginning of DCE.
For many years the company has been privately funded – “four arduous years” that Eland describes as DCE’s R&D phase. Now it is in its second round – building out space and mapping a roadmap that is taking the company beyond the shores of the UK.

Connectivity is key

The main premise for DCE is connectivity – setting up sites where fiber connections are strong. “The commercial build of the Cloud for the past couple of years has driven demand and need for local delivery platforms which have not been there before. If you take the two hubs we are currently building in Birmingham and Belfast, we see this can be the most effective way of doing that. It is a real hub-and-spoke strategy,” Eland says.

DCE has a series of networked carrier Point of Presence facilities across the UK and Ireland and it plans to announce a strategic partnership with Colt early this year which will open up access to its global network which will allow DCE to scale out operations fast.

“That single SLA becomes significantly different to a facility where a data center operator says to the customer “please put your own connectivity in”. We remove that pain,” Eland says.

As far as facilities are concerned, Eland says DCE is currently building out 120,000 sq ft. Part of this is in Belfast but the main center will be its central campus in Birmingham which can house 8 x 96 rack Evo-PODs.

DCE’s idea is that each Evo-POD, created by DCE, will be filled by an individual customer. Offering 10MW of scalable capacity, Tier III+ Central Exchange currently has one show POD and one fully operational tier III Evo-POD built of the eight. “Based on current demand, I would say within 18 months we will have the space filled. It takes 20 weeks or so to build out each POD,” Eland says.

By the end of this year, Eland says he believes DCE will have a footprint of about 250,000 to 300,000 sq ft within the UK. “We are looking to build out about 20 to 30MW”. It also plans to enter Turkey.

“In the next 12 to 18 months we will probably build in Dublin (subject to a customer order), Liverpool or Wirral, possibly both UK locations as two smaller facilities interconnecting across the peninsula. We will also look at Newcastle and Milton Keynes. Newcastle has diverse connectivity across to Amsterdam without having to come down through London, Belfast has a low-latency route across to the east coast of the US. This is all very much connectivity driven, unlike the London market which has been very much driven by property.”

The idea behind this aggressive growth rate is that DCE can simply place its PODs wherever customers will require, as long as connectivity is strong.

“We already have plans for Croatia and Turkey, due to customer demand. Because of our PODs we can have a rapid development time, so we don’t always need to build out a major facility immediately. We have partner facilities in Croatia, so we can move forward on a low capital entry point, assess demand and then move quickly to expand footprint if required.”

So what’s inside pod?

This approach also allows DCE to take on another revenue stream – placing its PODs up for private sale. “This is very much about removing the traditional CAPEX costs of a data center build out,” Eland says.

2bm just signed up to supply, build and install the Evo-POD across the UK, Middle East and Europe.

The 3,000 sq ft 96 rack Evo-POD was designed by the team at DCE and it comes in three different cooling variations – a traditional air cooled, high-density liquid cooled and a hybrid version, which can deliver both. Each 96 rack POD requires about 5,000 to 6,000 sq ft to operate.

DCE have also offer 48, 24 rack and 12 rack customizable versions of the Evo-POD as standard and different sizes and configurations are available on request.

“Sometimes customers in a longer-term lease aren’t comfortable with having liquid near the racks, but they may want this half way through their contract,” Eland says. “This isn’t an IO container where what you get is what you are given, the POD is scalable – which is its key USP – and this scalability is inside that same footprint. A customer can start with a 400kW entry level and move to 800kW to 1.2MW across the same standard 96 racks. “This appeals to those that want to ensure their data center is future-proofed.”

In December last year, DCE also signed a manufacture and distribution agreement for North America with engineering technology group Apollo, which will see it distributed across the continent. It is not a surprising move – Eland says the company is currently in advanced discussions with three existing operators in the country that have large campus sites with large power quotas.

Following the trend

Eland says DCE’s plan is to have a minimum of three locations “because the plan is for triangulation, resilience and connectivity”. “This is the model many cloud services and software giants are starting to go towards, Tier 1 and Tier II facilities but with resiliency in numbers,” Eland says. “Where we have gone slightly different is that we have gone for Tier III, and customers can have their facilities built to Tier IV if they want.”

DCE’s Birmingham site will be complete by April this year and will open alongside its smaller Belfast facility, marking DCE’s entrance into the market.