Stellium Banks on Schneider Electric Galaxy VM UPS for trans-Atlantic Data Reliability

Stellium Data Centres owns and operates one of the largest purpose-built data centre campuses in the UK. As a provider of Tier 3 data centres, the company offers high-reliability colocation services to strategic clients from its Newcastle, northeast England location.

Stellium positions itself as the new Data Meridian – where East meets West in data transfer – being the UK’s only landing point for the new North Sea Connect cable and the UK’s newest Internet Exchange Point. The company provides a wide choice of fast and direct terrestrial networks, including Newcastle’s only open metro network – the largest regional network in the UK.

Stellium – the Data Meridian

An important client to Stellium is Aqua Comms, a provider of international undersea fibre connectivity, which recently completed a major project to link the USA with Ireland, the UK and the Nordics. The America Europe Connect 2 (AEC-2) project is a dual diverse trans-Atlantic fibre connection comprising two legs: one going directly from the US to Denmark; the other passing through Ireland, the Isle of Man and England, where it terminates at the Stellium Campus before continuing to Denmark.

According to Paul Mellon, Operations Director of Stellium, the Newcastle campus hosts Aqua Comms’ cable landing station for the section passing through Britain and Ireland. The station comprises Power Feeder Equipment (PFE) gear which supplies the necessary power to transmit data via the cable to Denmark and Submarine Line Terminal Equipment (SLTE) in which the fibres get split for individual use. The overall capacity of the submarine cable is of the order of hundreds of Terabit/s, from which pairs of fibre can be split, each offering a capacity of 30Tbit/s.

The Challenge: Trans-Atlantic Connection Must be Reliable with Zero Downtime

The overriding requirement for Aqua Comms’ cable landing station is reliability with guaranteed zero downtime. Several factors made the Stellium Campus a good fit, according to Mellon. There is ample utility power in the area thanks to the presence of the UK Super Grid, which can provide dual 11kVA feeds into the site. There is also the comfort of being in a remote location away from the major centres of population in the south of the country, where congestion and power demands combine to present a risk to supply. And there is the realisation that with the quality of fibre connections now available, it is possible to have major data centres in any location once they can be managed and provisioned to the highest standards.

“The key element in the Service Level Agreement (SLA) we have with Aqua Comms is for 100% uptime,” says Mellon. “They need a data centre that will never go down, that has a high level of security both technically and physically, and a highly controlled environment for their equipment. Stellium could tick all the boxes they needed because our mantra is 100% uptime.”

To provide such a guaranteed service requires a combination of high-quality products and infrastructure with corresponding planning and operations management expertise. In the case of products and infrastructure, Stellium could provide Aqua Comms with ample power from the grid as well as backup power facilities that offer defence in depth.

“We demonstrated that we had 2N levels of redundancy with our uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system, together with 6MVA standby generators arranged in an N+1 configuration,” he says. “Furthermore, all our equipment is high quality from recognised leading global vendors: UPS from Schneider Electric, generators from FG Wilson, Eurobond walls and Kingspan floors. Prospective customers recognise the quality of investment that has been made in the facility.”

Excellence in Data Centre Management demonstrated by Stellium

Stellium also excels in the management of its campus, having earned certification to such standards as ISO 27001 for information security, ISO 14001 for environmental protection, and ISO 9001 for service management. With a background in electrical engineering design and facilities management, Mellon is well versed in life-cycle planning, ensuring that the site can operate in the long term with zero downtime while accommodating the inevitable adoption of new technologies and the addition of extra capacity with all the supplemental infrastructure that entails.

“The challenge for Stellium was to build our infrastructure around the cable landing facility so that we had a robust platform of power, of environmental control to manage temperature and humidity, and strict access control to manage security so that Aqua Comms could feel confident in the execution of their business plan for that cable over the next 25 years,” says Mellon. “From our perspective, it was a standard operating procedure to create a 100% uptime platform capable of concurrent maintenance.”

An example of just such a live upgrade was a project to reinforce the UPS resource necessary to guarantee uptime in the case of a power disruption. The requirement was to install dedicated UPS systems to support the Aqua Comms infrastructure rather than have it share UPS systems with other colocation clients.

Mellon says: “It was always part of the plan to keep the power needed for colocation IT separate from that needed for the fibre.  But given the complexity of the Europe America Connect project, which is really 14 related projects with a combined investment of between $400m and $500m, the cable landing station was completed in 2019, but the cable itself didn’t go live until 2020.”

The Solution; Dedicated Power backup for AEC-2 using Schneider Electric Galaxy VM UPS

Because of the time between the completion of the cable station and the go-live date for the connection, the project to upgrade the UPS capability did not take place until 2020. Unfortunately, this meant that it encountered the additional challenge of personnel restrictions caused by the onset of the Covid19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

The dedicated cable station UPS systems are 200kVA Galaxy VM models from Schneider Electric, chosen because of their quality, the experience Stellium has had of dealing with Schneider in the past and because the company’s product strategy fits well with Stellium’s approach to life cycle management.

Designed to provide efficient data centre power continuity, Galaxy VM is a highly compact, modular 3-phase UPS that incorporates servicing features which are highly desirable in mission-critical applications, e.g., all inputs, outputs and local manageability are accessible from the front of the unit to simplify maintenance; additional or replacement batteries can be quickly installed without the need to go to maintenance bypass and therefore maintaining availability and continuous protection of the load.

In addition, Galaxy VM features Schneider Electric’s ECOnversion operating mode, delivering ultra-high efficiency while charging the batteries, conditioning the load power factor and ensuring  Class 1 output voltage regulation. The unit’s high-efficiency rates remain stable even at lower operating power levels. Advanced electric features include power conditioning, very low harmonic distortion through IGBT rectifier, plus input power factor correction that lowers installation costs by enabling the use of smaller generators and cabling.

Results; Connecting the Continents with Zero Downtime

“We’ve had great support from Schneider,” says Mellon. “They’re very good technical designers, and the products are extremely reliable. In the past, we’ve found that we could rely on a 12-year-old UPS, for example, that was still operational even after it suffered what had seemed to be a catastrophic failure. That’s a monumental level of reliability and support that we recognise.”

The Galaxy VM models are also available with Lithium Ion batteries, which proved advantageous to Stellium because their smaller footprint is valuable in a data centre specialising in colocation. Mellon says that the confidence in sourcing a reliable product that is continually evolving in quality and efficiency was also a factor in choosing Schneider as its UPS supplier.

“We need to be very strategic going forward,” he says. “Once we get into production mode with clients, we need to be able to draw down high-quality products, such as chillers, switchgear and UPS, at an agreed delivery level. Our clients demand reliable delivery, and we need a similar commitment from our technology suppliers, so the strategic partner approach that Schneider adopts is highly attractive.”

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