A trip to one of those mysterious data centres your business is becoming increasingly reliant on

One of the perks of being a journalist are the interesting and varied invitations that pop up in your inbox. From opportunities to be flown out to a conference in a far flung land to your run of the mill cocktails and canapés product launch, it’s fair to say there’s no shortage of options.

So you might be wondering why an invitation to the official opening of a new data centre would be on the interesting end of the scale. Well, let me tell you why. Cloud, managed services, data and hosting are all buzzwords that, while relevant, have nothing tangible to hang themselves off of.

We are all told on a daily basis that the future is in the cloud, and soon most of our lives will involve an element of data that will need to be parked up and stored somewhere. As such, this particular journalist thought it might be interesting to get on a train and see what all the commotion was about.

Built by Texas-headquartered managed cloud company Rackspace near Gatwick, this new data centre is spread out over a 15-acre “campus” and will ultimately feature four “data suites” with a total 12MW capacity. Plans also mean that, one day, that figure could top 30 MW of capacity. Now if you’re anything like me you’ll have no idea what a MW capacity involves. A little big of research reveals that your average wind turbine has a capacity of 1.9 MW, so think six turbines sat side by side. Another way of quantifying that amount would be to equate it to the power requirements of somewhere between 5,000 and 7,5000 average UK homes.

Taking 15 months to build, and involving half a million man hours, the data centre will be for new and existing Rackspace customers in the UK and Europe and is connected to the existing Rackspace London metro fibre ring and to the main European long haul route.

Arriving at the data centre, made harder by the fact it is so new that no post code existed for our confused taxi driver, felt like a mix between visiting an out of town shopping centre and an airport hanger. With a noticeable lack of windows, the 130,000 square foot facility has none of the branding you’d associate with a building of this size and is surrounded by a ten foot fence – with one guarded entrance way on offer.


Eager to convince customers that their data is going to be safest with them, data centres rather unsurprisingly place a high value on security. Once through the gates after having visitor names ticked off, the next step is to hand over your photographic ID and sign a disclaimer. According to my host, closed circuit video cover all aspects of the exterior of the facility – including the roof – and even Rackspace’s CEO would need pre-authorisation to gain access.

The multiple layers of security also involve badge readers and biometric scanners that read the fingerprints of an individual before they are allowed access to sensitive areas. Leave a door open for too long and an alarm will sound, notifying someone in the command station that something untoward is going on.

While Rackspace’s new data centre was by no means full yet, the local MP had only just cut the red ribbon, once it is there will be 50,000 servers. Stack each one on top of another and the height would be equivalent to The Shard – 14 times over.

Read more about data centres:

So, now we know that data centre’s have some pretty intense security going on, what does it mean when a business decides to host its information in one of these locations. Once for the use of large enterprises and government bodies, data centres have quickly become a fast-growing cloud service for private and business applications.

Small and medium-sized business now no longer need a personal server room on site. The removal of previously prohibitive costs means that this “storage” of essential documents, images, payroll data and personal information can be farmed out for a licence fee. Essentially, any business taking out services with a company like Rackspace rent a rack space in one of its data centres dependent on its needs.


Data centres can also be used by businesses to host websites. For companies such as ecommerce platforms, when a site has a sudden surge in visitor traffic, new servers can be added to deal with extra demand, and then scaled back when traffic isn’t as high. There are two types of cloud, public and private. Public cloud involves using servers that are shared with other customers, while private cloud provides access to dedicated servers.

One of the biggest issues for a data centre operator, besides security, is cooling. Rackspace’s new site is fairly unique in the fact that it doesn’t require mechanical refrigeration. Its indirect cooling means the overhead energy required to operate has been cut by nearly 80 per cent. This means a saving of £2.1m when compared to traditional cooling systems and is facilitated by using rainwater from a roof rainwater harvesting system.

Eager to lead a revolution in the data centre space, Rackspace’s new site is compatible with the Open Commute design framework – essentially opening up the blueprints to whoever is interested.

While it’s always going to be a battle to make what is essentially a giant warehouse full of wires and other electronics wildly exciting, it’s impossible to ignore the rising importance of managed cloud services. For any business staring out or scaling up operations, these kind of technologies provide a way to compete on an exciting scale.

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