Schneider Electric and E-TEC help eircom improve data centre efficiency

As part of a program to consolidate its existing data centres into a smaller number of high-density, power-efficient facilities, Ireland’s largest telecommunications service provider eircom selected Schneider Electric and its Irish partner E-TEC to provide an advanced modular cooling solution for a key installation following a competitive tender.

 Ireland’s former incumbent telecoms operator eircom is currently the only quad-play service provider in the local market. Its business includes a retail arm, providing landline, cellular, internet and TV services directly to its own customers and a wholesale operation providing connectivity and data hosting to other service providers.

With a network of some 1100 exchanges around the country, eircom has a need for significant IT services operation both to handle its own internal needs and those of its customers to whom it provides bandwidth and colocation services. Inevitably, this has meant that the company operates a number of data centres, many using older legacy equipment.

The company wanted to consolidate its data centre facilities, reducing the overall number and modernising the equipment contained within, including the IT systems they housed and the power and cooling infrastructure that supported them.

Factors driving this decision included a growth in the demand for colocation services as the country recovers from recession and the general desire, driven by cost, environmental and corporate social responsibility (CSR) concerns to increase the efficiency both of its IT equipment, through increased virtualisation, and of the power consumption of the data centres as a whole.


According to Owen Wynne of eircom: “The strategy we are following is to consolidate the number of data centres that we currently occupy, mainly for operating-cost reasons but also to give us greater resilience in the products and services we offer, both internally and for our customers.”


eircom’s plan is to reduce its total number of data centres from seven to four over a five-year period with two data centres dedicated to the company’s internal needs and another two focussing on its customers.


“Within the externally facing data centres, we currently occupy more footprint for eircom’s own business than is desirable and we want to convert that to being marketable space that we can make available for our colocation customers,” says Wynne. Conversely, he adds: “The commercial data centres that we operate have a portion of internally facing eircom business. We want to extract those systems and put them into sites which in the long term will allow us to better service our own requirements.”

For its internally facing data centres, eircom selected two sites in the Dublin area; one in Blanchardstown and the other in the south west of the city. Each would operate independently but would also act as a disaster recovery site for the other.

The site in Blanchards town is a long-standing eircom facility that was built in the late 1970s as a core telephone exchange with a large communications room and an operations control centre to manage the network infrastructure. As such it has plenty of network capacity providing good fibre connectivity into eircom’s broader network which is also part of the company’s digital TV offering. The site also had sufficient office space that could be converted into a modern efficient data centre of 3000sq ft capacity taking advantage of the network bandwidth.

However, despite these advantages the site presented significant challenges from an infrastructure point of view, especially with regard to cooling. It is situated in the middle of a large shopping centre so it has little physical space to expand or to incorporate large external cooling systems.

As Owen Wynne puts it: “Some large data centres that have been announced recently use fresh air or adiabatic cooling – that simply wasn’t a runner in this particular location because we didn’t have the external footprint available to be able to use those kind of systems. We therefore decided the most effective strategy would be a modular data centre design that was both scalable and energy efficient, integrated with a traditional mechanical cooling system incorporating chillers that have a free cooling component to them.”

For design and delivery of the power and cooling infrastructure for the Blanchardstown data centre, eircom sought the services of E-TEC Power Management, a pan-European engineering company with design and implementation capabilities. As a long standing Schneider Electric Elite partner, E-TEC provided eircom with a customised modular design based upon the specific needs and constraints of the data centre.

Having originally considered and budgeted for a cooling system based around traditional CRAC (computer room air conditioned) units, eircom instead chose a pod-based design based around containment systems and in-row cooling units from Schneider Electric. According to Owen Wynne: “We wanted a modular design because we would be growing out over a period of time and a modular design would give us the scalability and flexibility that we needed.”

The data centre utilises Schneider Electric’s EcoAisle intelligent thermal containment system, designed to increase data centre cooling efficiency while protecting the IT load. The system is compatible with almost any type of rack or cooling deployment and can support hot- and cold-aisle containment approaches.

Kieran Kennedy of E-TEC says that the data centre was designed using the company’s own software tool – called PEARL – which allows a computerised visualisation of the layout of the room together with the necessary cooling and containment components. The 3-dimensional representation aided decision making on the equipment for the new data centre.

“Pearl gave everybody sitting around the table a very clear picture of what was being proposed and what ideas people had,” he said. “That was done by creating a visualisation of the rack layout and of the key components within the room.”

Another benefit of PEARL is the support documentation it can generate. “The intention is to provide electronic documentation which will be tailored for the Blanchardstown facility,” added Kennedy. “It means that the customer will not have to store and update binder after binder of documentation that has to be paged through to find relevant information for particular kit.”

A key consideration was to achieve a healthy PUE (Power Usage Efficiency) rating for the data centre. According to Owen Wynne, eircom spends in the region of €23m annually on electricity so using power efficiently is of key concern.

“Cooling is a significant operational cost in any data centre,” said Kieran Kennedy. “With Active Flow Control to intelligently monitor the airflow balance between the cooling system and IT equipment, EcoAisle automatically adjusts the cooling system fan speed to right-size airflow based on IT load requirements. In doing so it offers energy savings through improved cooling capacity, as well as providing increased flexibility to meet eircom’s evolving and future needs.”

The target PUE figure for the new site is 1.3, which Owen Wynne describes as a “conservative target” which eircom hopes to improve upon over time.

“Our estimates are that based on the weather data available for the site, we will probably not run on full compressor cooling on the chillers for more than 6 per cent of the time over the course of a year,” he said. A typical PUE rating for the company’s existing sites is 1.8, so even the conservative figure represents a significant improvement.

The modular design of the data centre comprises five containment systems or pods, each of which has standard 750mm wide racks, in-row cooling, power distribution units (PDUs) and cable management. They are all controlled using Schneider Electric’s StruxureWare for Data Centers (DCIM) software which integrates into the centre’s overall Building Management System (BMS).

As well as the five pods, there were some existing passive racks which had to be integrated into the overall system. These were accommodated using two additional “half pods” as part of the Schneider Electric solution designed by E-TEC.

The combination of Schneider Electric’s cooling equipment and management software along with E-TEC’s ability to develop a bespoke infrastructure design and to provide local support expertise, has allowed eircom to roll out a highly efficient, modular data centre that can expand to meet further demand for its services while keeping infrastructure costs under tight control.

“E-TEC provided us with a fully turnkey service,” said Owen Wynne. “We have a long-standing relationship with the company and have found them to be proactive, creative and always willing to find a way of getting things done. The support of the manufacturer is critical as well and with Schneider Electric, we were buying a brand which promises us not just good service and a good design solution but something we could work with in the long term.”

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