A good DCIM, the all-seeing eye of LCL

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LCL has relatively large data centers at 3 locations. For data centers of this scale, good management of the infrastructure is crucial for reliable, smooth and organized operation. We use sophisticated software for DCIM, developed specifically for LCL. This includes our exact floor plans and the electrical diagrams for each data room. We work together with Perf-IT for this. Their application brings all our hardware together in one DCIM system. For example, cooling systems from different brands can be seamlessly integrated into the system.

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What is mainly being watched at DCIM? It is about checking all important parameters in a data center: the temperature, power consumption, capacity and efficiency. At LCL, one system controls all these factors. In this way, employees can monitor their proper functioning day and night at a glance. This central, comprehensive approach makes the information much clearer than when you have to consult different systems. In the event of a warning or problem, the application also immediately gives an indication of the cause. The seriousness of the report becomes immediately apparent, even remotely.

Regarding temperature for example, we see the values ​​in the various halls and the impact thereof for each customer at a glance. In addition, the redundancy is closely monitored. Everything must be able to work redundantly in terms of temperature, but also in terms of electricity. Capacity management is also much simpler, both for the data center in general and for the customers individually. For example, when a customer consumes 80% of his available capacity, a warning may appear.

Thanks to our DCIM system, our customers enjoy extensive and clear reporting. This way they are informed in detail about the status of their servers. Thanks to our extensive analyzes, we can also inform them well in advance of evolutions that are best addressed. A too high power consumption can, for example, cause the redundancy to be too small. In that case we contact our customers preventively and indicate what the possible solutions for this are.

A good DCIM system bears fruit not only for our customers, but also for LCL. The “Power Usage Efficiency” (PUE) is closely monitored: after all, the ratio between customer power usage and infrastructure load should be as close as possible to one. This way we avoid unnecessary costs. On the other hand, it helps us to work more efficiently and sustainably. For example, the cooling has already been fine-tuned. Our energy consumption decreased significantly by changing the temperature control in the server rooms and by adjusting the rotation speed of the fans of the air-conditioning outdoor units.The DCIM application is also linked to invoicing, which means that the consumption per customer is thoroughly documented and calculations are made automatically.


After almost 2 years, the DCIM project at LCL has almost been finalised. The project took a lot of time because it was tackled one site at a time. Moreover, many analyzes preceded: for example, every power board and every flow meter was checked. The customized user interface required a large investment, but we think it is more than worth it. In the future we will also have a mobile DCIM app, so that employees can consult all the information via their mobile phone. That is something to look forward to!

By Laurens van Reijen

Driving down energy consumption

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With a wave of climate related protests sweeping Belgium and several other European countries, it is clear that climate change has taken hold of the public’s attention. At LCL we are well aware of our position in this problem. Data centers consume a lot of energy. The ICT-sector is responsible for 2 percent of worldwide CO2-emissions, according to the United Nations. With the advent of further digitalisation and cloud computing, that figure is set to climb even higher in the future.

This gives us a responsibility to act on and save energy wherever we can.

Fortunately, at LCL, we have the right men and women for the job. Over the last few months we have been optimizing our cooling regulation and equipment to decrease our energy consumption without any impact on our customers. This has allowed us to cut energy consumption in the testing part of our data center by no less than 65 percent. Needless to say this makes a huge impact on the effect our data centers have on the environment.
How did we achieve this? Until now we have had a certain way to keep the temperature low in our data centers. As our customers’ equipment creates a lot of heat and is sensitive to high temperatures, this is crucial to our operations. As is common practice in data centers, our server rooms have a ‘cold corridor’.  At LCL, these corridors have been around for year. Where we have been innovating during the past 6 months, is in temperature management. Our engineers have been experimenting with our temperature settings.

In the past we would maintain a constant temperature inside our server rooms themselves, extracting the air as it heats up and injecting cooler air. However, maintaining a constant temperature inside the cold corridor turns out to be a more efficient way of cooling, thus saving a lot of energy. The servers pull up the air from underneath the raised floor, into the cold corridor. The temperature is allowed to rise inside the room, without any effect on our equipment inside the cold corridor. This way there is less cooling to be done, hence less energy that needs to be used.

Another breakthrough was realised by modifying the speed of the fans of the cooling system outside our building. Before these would be either off or running at full speed, with no setting in between. By making the speed of the fans variable, these do not have to work at full capacity all the time, thus saving extra energy.
By using these techniques we are implementing a key part of the ‘European Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in Data Centers’. We are the first endorser of this code in Belgium and believe very strongly in its goals. Implementing this new cooling solution has been a challenge, especially in a live environment. Realising this project gives a great deal of satisfaction. We will now work towards expanding our test area and implementing this solution in all of our data centers.

Data centers and the ICT-sector in general inherently use a lot of power. They are also indispensable to our modern world and economy. All that does not mean that we must not strive to cut that power consumption as much as possible. At LCL, we are showing that we are more than ready to take on that responsibility.

By Laurens van Reijen

Data center vs. Cloud – The best of both worlds

Gartner, world’s leading research and advisory company, predicts that 80% of enterprises will have shut down their traditional on-premise data center by 2025. Companies’ IT requirements are evolving, because business and customer needs are changing. New technologies like the Internet of Things or edge services are pushing companies away from their data center. Furthermore, businesses are developing IT strategies that focus on their application portfolio, rather than on their physical infrastructure. Also, the customer experience is getting more attention. All this makes organizations reconsider where their applications and equipment should be housed, based on network latency, customer population clusters and geopolitical limitations.

You will probably think that this prediction is music to our ears. Partly it is of course, because when enterprises close down their own data center, they usually choose one of two options: migrating their data into the cloud or moving their servers to a professional data center. However, these days there is a ‘cloud first’-hype. Some companies decide to go with one of the large cloud players like Microsoft, Amazon, Google or Oracle. But at LCL, you can get the best of both worlds as we provide easy access to multiple cloud providers. Our cloud neutrality allows you to connect directly to one of our partners. By which we mean Belgian cloud providers who house their clouds at our data centers like for example Arcadiz, Arxus (Cronos Group), Cheops, Combell, Fujitsu, Nucleus, Proact, RealDolmen, Savaco or Sentia.

Another option is of course to skip the cloud and to store your data directly at the servers in a professional data center. Your own data center requires a lot of maintenance, but this service is included at external data centers like LCL. Our trained staff has the right skills and knowledge to take care of all our critical infrastructure 24/7, making sure your equipment keeps running without interruption. Power cuts, lightning strikes, fires, insufficient cooling, security breaches, … these are the things you don’t need to worry about. We take care of that, while you can focus on your core business. And let’s not forget the other services which are included at LCL: redundancy and security. Also, our carrier neutrality gives you the flexibility to easily switch between different operators.

IT infrastructure is getting more complex every day, so companies are looking for external service partners to help. Maybe you are as well? We offer you business continuity, crucial in today’s business world. And on top of that you can replicate all your critical data to one of our other data centers. If I were you, I would rethink my IT strategy sometime soon…

The shift towards the edge

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The data center world is evolving as the amount of data in the world is constantly increasing. New technologies like the Internet of Things, blockchain, 5G, Artificial Intelligence require a different approach. These technologies require rapid response and real time analysis. Extra data processing and storage capacity is thus needed very close to the source of the data. That’s what edge computing is about: storing, processing and analysing data as close as possible to the point where it is generated.

The shift towards the edge means a shift towards decentralised data centers. Data transfer to a centralised hyperscale cloud data center sometimes just takes up too much time. Pushing computation and analytical capabilities closer to the edge reduces traffic and can reduce round-trip delay in sending data for analysis to and from a centralised cloud platform. This results in better security, improved availability, more privacy and increased resiliency. Every city or region will need their own data center, so this will require a lot of extra data center space.

Edge processing can raise network speed, reduce latency and help with capacity issues. Failures or congestion in networks may cause serious problems for machines, devices or user experience. Think about Pokémon Go: people all over the world were walking around with their smartphones trying to catch ‘em all. Who would like it if the connection goes down at the exact moment they’re catching a rare Pokémon. The same goes for smart watches: the output is needed immediately, so there’s no time to send all the data to the cloud to be analysed.

Another example are autonomous cars. These self-driving vehicles will produce an enormous amount of data and will exchange information with each other. If one car detects a pothole in the road, it sends this information to the next car, which will adept the suspension at the exact location of the pothole. Processing data like this must happen within less than a microsecond or accidents will happen. That’s why the processing needs to happen very close to the point of usage. Availability is key here.

The data center world is evolving, but so is LCL. We are ready for the shift towards the edge. We’re connected in three cities in Belgium: Antwerp, Aalst and Brussels. Our data centers are scalable and flexible and have all the necessary components for security, cooling, energy … already in place. We’re striving for maximum availability and reliability.

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.

What do YOU prefer: a ‘self-service’ cloud provider or rather a ‘services-included’ cloud provider?

It took some time to convince businesses to migrate to the cloud – and there is still a certain percentage that hasn’t done so. They didn’t quite trust their applications and data would be secure. But now that many companies – large and small – see the advantages of the cloud, we get the opposite problem: there is too much trust.

People subscribe to cloud services paying peanuts, yet not expecting monkeys

A couple of years ago now, we had a clear case showing the difference. A large data center was struck by lightning. As a consequence, the clients of the data centre saw the light. The data centre lost some client data. They pointed out to their clients that it was their own fault. It’s the clients’ responsibility to take the necessary precautions to secure their data, not the cloud provider’s role to handle this, so they said. So these clients started realising that a self-service cloud does not entirely mean services are included. Quite on the contrary. The media reported that the clients’ calls weren’t answered. Whether literally no one was there or rather that they hadn’t planned to provide any service at all and therefore wouldn’t answer the calls: the clients were left in the cold.

People really want to be cheated, don’t they?

Do you really think that paying for cloud space with a credit card and without any personal contact would get you the same service as when buying from a real person who has listened to your needs? I don’t think so.

When you purchase from a cloud provider you can actually call someone and discuss your specific needs. These cloud providers generally have custom features. And the fact that you can speak to someone, really means that you can get support, as opposed to the situation where there’s no one you can call so no one to listen to your needs and able to support you. There are plenty of service-included cloud providers around: Joos Hybrid, Nucleus, Proact, Sentia, Tobania, just to name the ones we house.

There are no miracles, sorry…

People’s salaries represent a certain cost. If you want to be able to talk to someone, get custom features and/or support, that involves a person and a salary, so you pay the price. If you buy cloud space cheaply, that just means no human time is included. Did you agree to a standard offering? Watch it when you want to change your order. That also implies service.

At LCL, we house a lot of companies, government organisations and systems integrators requiring cloud services. We hear a lot of stories about cloud offerings being non-transparent, non-scalable, and financially unpredictable once you step outside what you initially signed for. If you buy into a standard, cheap offer, and you want to scale up or down, you’re dependant on your supplier. And as there’s no one who knows you, there’s no one to discuss your Frankly? Probably no one really cares beyond the monthly turnover. Meaning: unless you fit into the standard flow and all goes well, it’s plug-and-pray time. With some bad luck, you’re screwed.

A data centre is an ecosystem

When you choose a real data centre, especially one with a customer intimacy-strategy such as LCL, you enter an ecosystem. You have access to all the cloud providers you can wish for, the anonymous ‘self-service’ ones as well as the ‘service-included’ ones. We’re there to advise and accompany you. We want to understand your needs and make sure you get the solution that’s right for you. Because that’s the only way to build valuable long-term partnerships. And as we know our clients, we care for them to stay!

Laurens

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