Will there be sufficient people to run our digital lives?

blog januari

We’re evolving towards a digital world. Erm, no. Let me start over. We live in a digital world. And things around us will only become more digital. Our smartphones are more and more becoming the center of our lives. We make phone calls, send txt messages, FB, watch movies, buy stuff, book holidays, taxi rides and hotel rooms. We manage our finances, track and share our sports activities, we navigate to any location, we leave a trail of where we were … all with one device.

Whether we realise it or not, this device that fits nicely in our hands is backed by an immense, ever-expanding network of applications, servers, connections and infrastructure. Things that need to be continuously developed and maintained. To do that, requires people. And that’s where we have a problem in Belgium. Our workforce isn’t growing fast enough and isn’t retrained fast enough. We still have people sitting in un employment. Unless we take action now and activate our workforce at an increased rate, we won’t be able to keep up with the digital pace. I guess however, Belgium’s not the only country struggling to fill all job openings.

According to Agoria (the umbrella organisation of all Belgian technology-based companies), more jobs are appearing than disappearing (+0,9% per year) while the workforce is growing only slowly (+0,3% per year). On top of this, digitalisation is changing the content of every job; for some limited, for others quite radical. Unless we take action, digitalisation and economic dynamics will result in more than half a million unfilled posts by 2030, in Belgium alone.

Expert jobs require expert people. Keep people within their focus, they’ll perform better and will be more engaged. People sometimes assume that data center housing is an IT job. It’s not, it’s an engineer’s. Data center construction and maintenance require expert knowledge on electrical power and circuitry, engines/generators, cooling and heating, architecture, security, energy efficiency… So why would you want to train an IT person to do an engineer’s job? It’s a completely different skill set. Anyway, you could use that IT person to focus on IT projects. That’s what you hired her/him for in the first place.

And why would you want to do it yourself inhouse. Besides the skill set, a data center that has an uptime of over 99,9%, requires a state-of-the-art infrastructure which by itself is a huge investment. We already made that investment, so why not outsource yours and benefit from the economies of scale? That way, you can also save on office space, which you will need for your future staff.

Be The Change – Shaping the Future of Work is a campaign by Agoria. Would you like to find out how our workforce – and you – will be impacted by the digitalisation of our lives; will you be the change? Then visit the Be The Change landing page.

Laurens van Reijen

Managing Director, LCL Data Centers

Data centers trying to beat the heat

After six weeks of sunshine and high temperatures, I reflected on how well the cooling installations in our data centers were performing and the fact that so far we hadn’t encountered any problem this summer. The very next day, however, one of our air conditioning units indicated it suffered badly under the extreme conditions of the persisting heat. Fortunately, we designed our systems to be fully redundant, and our team, which was on the scene immediately, kept their cool and did an excellent job in resolving the incident.

In the past, things were different. When we first opened our data center, over 15 years ago, we faced problems as soon as the weather turned hot. This was often the result of inadequate maintenance, such as when the cooling generators on the roof became clogged up with pollen. Since that incident, we have carried out additional maintenance work every spring to remove the pollen. On very hot days we had to contend with failing systems, and this was particularly problematic when a second site was affected too. While this was very frustrating, it taught us that we needed to address the issue of cooling differently.

Practice makes perfect, so when we made new investments we took into account the fact that roofs become particularly hot in the summer, for example – thus generating more heat inside of the data centers. Our new data centers were therefore designed with extra large cooling generators on their roofs to ensure they can deal with high temperatures.

Given the heatwave currently hitting our country – the second already this summer –, we are very glad that we took those decisions. We will have to take even higher temperatures into consideration if global warming continues. If climate change creates additional problems in the future, the design of data centers will have to be fully adapted to cope with that phenomenon.

In Uptime Institute’s annual global data center survey (2018) of almost 900 data center operators and IT practitioners, 46% of respondents said that their organizations were not addressing potential climate change disruption to their data centers. The advice is to conduct disaster and emergency planning in the context of a broader emergency and business continuity plan. At LCL, we take the Tier design criteria into account in order to increase operational efficiency and improve the reliability of our business critical infrastructure. We also test our backup systems once a month by simulating a power outage. Floods may not occur often in Belgium, but (heat) thunderstorms do take place once in a while… We at LCL, are prepared for the rapidly changing climate conditions.

Laurens van Reijen

Blockchain and data center: a happy marriage?

Blockchain is the new buzz. It’s designed to make transactions transparent and elimate the requirement of trust among individuals for simple transactions. Blockchain has a huge potential to create massive social change. And we ask ourselves, what role can we as a datacenter play in blockchain? Is it a happy marriage?

To be honest, we don’t know. Blockchain requires more powerful processors to handle transactions, which as a consequence requires much more electricity and does not render blockchain technology energy efficient. What we do know is that as a data center we strive to be as energy efficient as possible. At LCL, we don’t plan to start becoming less energy efficient, especially not after all the effort we’ve put in to achieve just the opposite.
Where we do see ourselves play a major role is in the connectivity. Since blockchain saves a copy of the entire transaction history on the computer of every user, it means that data needs to be exchanged constantly between all these copies, making sure the information is kept up to date. And where does all traffic need to pass through? Right, a data center. Particularly (at LCL) via the meet-me-room. Telecom operators will play a major role in Blockchain, as connections will be key. Data centers will become more and more a node of internet and other traffic. And as bandwidth is multiplied by 1.5 ever year without blockchain anyway, there will be a massive need for extra bandwidth when blockchain would become generally accepted. In this respect, we, LCL, see a bright future for data centers; especially given that at LCL we house up to 38 carriers in our three data centers. On top of the fact that everyone’s evolving towards data center outsourcing anyway, as the security (and other) requirements make it very inefficient and expensive to store your servers in your own data center or server room.

So, are data centers and blockchain a happy marriage?

Yes, definitely for data exchange. However, not when it comes down to energy efficiency. At least not until they’ve made blockchain more energy efficient, something I’ve read they’re looking into. And something we look forward to, because we surely don’t want to abandon our ISO 14001 certification.

Laurens van Reijen
Managing Director, LCL Data Centers

PS: The MIT Technology Review of MAY/JUNE 2018 has a full issue covering Blockchain, a must read for everyone interested.

Do you really want to give up your freedom?

It continues to amaze me that people choose to house their servers in data centers owned by telecom operators.

Carrier-neutral data centers allow a great deal more freedom of movement.

Network-neutral data centers offer meet-me rooms, where you can have redundant connections to a number of different operators.

 

Every type of connection is possible. And if, say, one network provider suffers a malfunction, you can fall back on your connection to another network provider that is unaffected.

As an independent (i.e. carrier-neutral, cloud-neutral and system integrator-neutral) data center, LCL is connected to more than 30 carriers, using MPLS, IP VPN, internet backbone (IP Transit), dark fiber, BNIX, Voice over IP or video connectivity services.

A fiber cut recently occurred in Zaventem when a contractor accidentally drilled through some glass fiber cables. A number of network operators experienced problems as a result. Customers that had double connections at our data centers, however, remained up and running.

Furthermore, competition between telecom providers has pushed prices down. A carrier that owns a data center may, however, make it difficult to switch provider when a competitor cuts prices. This is referred to as vendor lock-in.

Competition encourages providers to set themselves apart as carriers and offer the best levels of service and availability. With a network-neutral data carrier, you can benefit from this because you can switch network provider at any time without having to move your servers. You are also the first to benefit from new offers from carriers.

Moreover, a carrier neutral data center allows you to connect directly to the cloud provider of your choice, whether public or private. This means you can choose between different cloud providers right from the start and can switch flexibly between different cloud environments.

Why would you deliberately decide to limit your freedom at a time when freedom is so important? Perhaps the time has come to rethink your data center strategy. A data center migration is a once-only investment that is certain to pay off in the long term.

 

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director at LCL

A data center day?

A couple of days ago, a fiber line was damaged in Zaventem, near Brussels.

The damage was near one of our data centers. It had nothing at all to do with us, we weren’t infected.

But when the news broke, the press still called us.

 

Talking to my colleagues of other data centers worldwide, in the European Data Center Association, it seems this is the case everywhere.

We have three data centers, on different sides of the biggest Belgian cities. We invest millions constantly upgrading our infrastructure, technology, security, and other facilities. We have 39 operators offering connections in our data centers. Every fiber connection comes into our buildings by two entries, and we even have two meet-me-rooms, to make sure every potential problem in the data center is catered for.

Why is it that no one is ever surprised that we’re ‘up’ all the time, but that, when a carrier has a problem – independently from us – it’s the data center that gets the bad coverage?

We provide the infrastructure of the digital economy. If we, data centers, were to go on strike, web shops and companies worldwide would come to a standstill. No internet connections, no clouds provided, no hosting without us.

I suggest we install a national day of the data center. A day on which we celebrate that data centers are serving their customers around the clock. With not so much as a split second of any failure whatsoever, months and years on end…

Can we have some positivity and recognition, please?

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director at LCL

Guest Blog – What it’s like to work at LCL: Matthias Borremans, Facilities Project Manager

Ecological cooling systems

Matthias Borremans is LCL’s Facilities Project Manager.

He joined the company nearly a year ago. What exactly does his job entail? And which projects does he oversee?

Matthias tells all in this guest blog.

“As the Facilities Project Manager, I am responsible for overseeing various projects at LCL. One part of my work involves advising management when technologies or topologies need to be selected.

As a data center, we have to take a great many matters into consideration, and it is impossible to study everything, or design every element, without bringing in outside assistance. I therefore work with a number of engineering consulting firms that focus on different aspects of the data center.

One of the major projects on which I am currently working concerns the preparations for the construction of a new data center in Aalst. LCL already has a branch in Aalst, and it is building a second, 1200 m² data room behind its existing site. A data center cannot simply be thrown together. A study needs to be performed first, which can take up to 18 months. I check the study and monitor the implementation and delivery of the project. I always seek out the best technology and like to think outside the box. And as data centers are extremely energy-intensive, I like to come up with new ideas to help us be as environmentally friendly as possible.

For example, I considered the various cooling options for the new data center. One way to keep cooling generators cool is to spray water on them, in a process referred to as adiabatic cooling. This uses drinking water, however, which evaporates once it has been sprayed. We discussed the ethics of this within LCL, and asked ourselves whether it is acceptable to use drinking water for cooling and simply allow it to evaporate. A system of this kind does not consume a great deal of energy, is compact and can be fully redundant, but we decided it was not an environmentally responsible choice, and so we looked for an alternative solution. In the end, we opted for a system that can collect rainwater to cool down the dry coolers in hot weather.

In addition, the temperature range of the cooling water in the data center in Aalst will not be as low as in traditional systems. The cooling water will be cooled by the air outside when the outdoor temperature is lower than the temperature indoors (this is the case most of the year in Belgium), which means there will be no need to use cooling equipment. To ensure we can use this free cooling for as long as possible, we have selected the largest possible dry coolers, which will make it easier to remove heat. Using free cooling will allow us to achieve substantial energy savings.

The cooling system in the new data center in Aalst will be dual redundant (2N redundancy). This means there will be two backup cooling systems. As we want to maximize the space in the new data room, the cooling generators have been placed on the roof. To assist us with this, we called on the services of a stability engineer.

The construction project in Aalst is scheduled for completion at the end of 2018.”

Matthias Borremans, Facilities Project Manager at LCL

66% of quoted companies have a cloud-strategy

Our survey of companies quoted on Euronext Brussels, shows that 66% of them has a cloud strategy.

Most (79%) have a private cloud. 17% set up a hybrid cloud. 4% use a public cloud.

The 33% of companies that doesn’t have a cloud strategy chooses not to go to the cloud because they feel that they have less control.

 

They prefer to manage their IT infrastructure internally, to ensure business continuity. It’s mainly real estate and industrial companies that choose not to go to the cloud.

This means for one thing that a number of companies has yet to be convinced that the cloud really can be safe. On the other hand, some companies fear that their business continuity may be jeopardized if they don’t ‘control’ their IT completely (meaning: in house, where they can actually see it). On the other hand, if they only have one data center, and they never really test their power backup, safety really is an illusion.

Our very own interpretation of the results is also that, to many people, like the 33% in our survey that chooses not to go to the cloud, ‘the cloud’ they know is the public cloud. Business people, as opposed to IT-people, don’t necessarily know that there is something like a private cloud, where you still manage your IT yourself if you want to. Where cloud technology, developed at first for public clouds, is brought to your personal infrastructure to give you the benefits of the cloud as well as full control. There are safe and less safe, and pricy as well as more affordable solutions in both public and private cloud solutions. And there’s the hybrid solution as well, combining both. The difference still is that you can’t go to your server room or data center and look at your infrastructure. So there remains a mental barrier to cross… We come across quite a few CIO’s that have difficulties convincing their management and/or their Board to go to the cloud. The lack of knowledge about the cloud is probably the reason why.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The truth is that IT is not an exact science, and the market isn’t transparent. People have their own opinion about which is the best solution. There is no such thing as an objective measurement of the risk involved in different scenario’s. Fact and myth are intertwined. On the other hand: people learn when things go wrong, but they sometimes close their eyes for the learnings of others. There have yet to come more examples of companies having to shut down operations due to a power outage or another ‘disaster’.

We at LCL will continue our plead for secure data, in a secure housing environment. That is the one sure thing we can offer you!

Watch the video made by Kanaal Z about our survey on our YouTube channel.
Dutch version
French version

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director LCL