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

Let’s join forces for data center outsourcing

Over the past years, I have made attempts, with the Dutch Datacenter Association, to set up a Belgian Datacenter Association in one form or another, in order to promote the interests of data centers in our country.

This organization will put us on the international map owing to the unique position we hold in the heart of Europe, with London and Paris just 5 milliseconds away and Amsterdam even closer. You can probably relate to the idea.

Belgians not only have a brick in their stomach, they clearly also have a data center or server room in their stomach.

In terms of data center outsourcing, our country must be ranked like bottom of the list. People do not feel comfortable if their server is not in their basement, as it were.

 

When I hear CIOs talk about how their management views the potential outsourcing of their data center, I sometimes feel as if I am back in the Middle Ages.

But in those days there were fortresses, of course, and people did not need electricity. Today, the needs of businesses are somewhat more sophisticated, and internal data centers or server rooms are slightly more vulnerable than a fortress armory.

Given this, jointly promoting external data centers would be a very useful exercise.

Unfortunately, most Belgian data center businesses only pay lip service to collaboration. They limit themselves to their own daily challenges, rather than investing time in joining forces, let alone looking beyond national borders.

Of course, I am Dutch. I have seen genuine efforts in this area in the Netherlands, and they are bearing fruit. But in Belgium, LCL’s is a lone voice in the wilderness.

 

Laurens van Reijen, Managing Director LCL

Who has better Business Continuity than Belgocontrol?

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Data Center LCL

A lot of sarcasm on social media and in the press yesterday and today, about Belgocontrol’s failing power backup. Next to the economic damage, there’s the reputation damage. A lot of companies are no better though. When confronted with a power cut, whether as a test or a real one, most companies will bear unexpected consequences. And what is more: a lot of IT Managers are quite aware of that. I bet many IT Managers haven’t slept well last night…

It’s true that redundancy of all your critical systems and assets in general, such as Belgocontrol’s control tower, requires an investment. Some IT Managers tell us their CFO or CEO won’t give them the budgets to do what is really needed. Let’s hope yesterday’s adventures have learned these CXO’s what’s really at stake.

As a CEO, if you really want to be sure that your business continuity is satisfactory, you need to make sure a full test is done. Many don’t dare test as it should be done, so they never know whether their precautions are quite enough. For your IT it’s somewhat easier: you can go for the OPEX rather than the CAPEX model, and confide in LCL’s data centers to make sure your systems are protected and your business continuity really works… We do a real test at least every month, actually cutting the power entirely. We can safely say that we can honor the SLA of our Tier III certification. Last night, like (most) every night, I personally slept like a baby!

Laurens van Reijen, CEO of LCL data centers

The Dutch blackout and our electricity dependance

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Data Center LCL

As we’ve all read, The Netherlands had a blackout a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t, in spite of all the noise that was made over the possibility of a blackout. That is: we didn’t have one yet. In the North of The Netherlands, including in large areas of Amsterdam, there was no electricity for about two hours. When it finally came through, it took the provider two extra hours to restore the electricity in all areas. Yesterday, we learned that Belgium imported four times as much electricity this winter as we did last year. Given that we weren’t exactly freezing this winter (and so had a moderate consumption), if we didn’t have a blackout, we were probably just lucky.

The effect in The Netherlands was considerable. A lot of companies, including the airport and Dutch railways, bore the consequences. Next to 1 million families. And plenty of shops, where the security systems weren’t working. Traffic lights were failing, which created chaos. Police stations were inaccessible as their failing electric locks kept their doors shot. And the websites of several media, among which the national news service NOS, were down and unable to inform the public of what was going on.

We searched the internet for reports of the damage done to companies’ ICT systems, but these remain a well kept secret. Who will admit to the loss of data and/or systems for underestimating the consequences or because of a lack of precautions (such as contracting a data center)? As to the cause of the breakdown: provider Tennet did take its precautions: all high-tension cables are redundant. But then Murphy is never far away: there was a failure when both loops were connected because of works. So in spite of redundancy, there was still a breakdown. Where will Murphy be in our country when the electricity fails? There will be unexpected problems, such as failing internet lines. In The Netherlands, UPC’s cable network was dead. People also reported that the Vodafone mobile network was out as well as the KPN landlines.

Which is more frightening? That such a large area depends on one station, or that even redundant systems are so vulnerable… When we get an RFP requiring multiple data centers, sometimes they only need to be 5 km apart. How ridiculous is that? Like, you won’t have utilities in one area, and you will at a distance of only 5 km? They should be at least 25 km apart as the crow flies. Taking precautions is not enough. One should test them elaborately and frequently, by cutting the electricity off on a regular basis. We cut it off 36 times a year, just to make sure. There will still be unexpected problems, but at least you will have foreseen the obvious ones, and with some luck, you will be able to continue working… If you’d like some tips as to prepare for next year’s winter: there is a checklist some blogs further down.

Note that one can get a compensation in The Netherlands for damages following an electricity breakdown, but only if it lasts for more than 4 hours, which is an eternity if you don’t have a professional backup… Good luck!

Laurens van Reijen, CEO of LCL data centers

Today’s eclipse, solar panels and disaster recovery

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Data Center LCL

Today, if clouds don’t spoil it for us, we’ll get to see a solar eclipse. On a sunny day, an eclipse translates into 40% less electricity from solar panels. Given the shaky state of the electricity supply in Belgium, I do hope you have a backup server room or data center, just in case we should get the long feared electricity blackout after all.

Earlier this week, well before the eclipse, we experienced two power cuts in our data centers, shortly after one another: one in Aalst yesterday, and one at the beginning of the week in Diegem. We have ample backup systems, of course. Our clients never noticed there was a (short) blackout. When data center activities are not your core business however, you can never protect your data and assets in the same way a professional external data center can. So a power cut represents a threat.

Even if you do have a backup solution, a second data center, at a distance of, say, 5 km: how relax can you be about potential disasters such as a power cut? I would keep my mobile close by if I were you. If your server rooms/data centers are only 5 km apart, both are very likely to suffer from any power cut that occurs on the grid. Even if you have the right backup facilities in both your data centers, your staff will have to be in both places at the same time to monitor. A double power cut represents an extra risk, there’s no doubt about that. In practice, your data centers need to be at least 20 km apart to avoid any unnecessary extra risk.

In short: a lot of companies are not as safe as they think they are. A condition for growth is that you can focus on your core business. And that your backend is no source of worry…

Laurens van Reijen, CEO of LCL data centers