Massive Welsh datacentre rises from ashes of chip fabrication plant

A former microchip plant in Wales is being turned onto one of Europe’s most advanced and secure datacentres.


A former microchip plant in Wales is being turned onto one of Europe’s most advanced and secure datacentres.

Next Generation Data (NGD) is investing £200 million to modify a 750,000 square-foot (69,677 square meters) factory built by LG more than a decade ago near Newport.

The plant was intended for fabricating microchips but was abandoned after the Asian financial crisis.

The Welsh government has tried for years to find other uses for the structure whose second floor alone can hold two 747 jumbo jets. Now, it's in the midst of a massive retrofit to house thousands of server racks that NGD officials say could appeal to companies such as IBM and Microsoft, which are growing their datacentre services.

Although it was built for microchips, NGD officials say the facility is well suited for a datacentre, thanks to its close proximity to local carrier exchanges, a nearby power substation and relatively easy access from the London area, according to Simon Taylor, the company's chairman.

The datacentre is being designed to be "carrier neutral" and will have fibre Internet connections provided by carriers BT, NTL and Cable and Wireless. NGD is also in negotiations to get a trans-Atlantic connection that would bypass London, which would ensure connectivity in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster such as flooding in the city.

"We actually think that having non-London transit will be a very saleable product for us," Taylor said.

NGD's facility will draw power from a local substation that connects directly to the national grid." The substation can deliver up to 180 megavolt amperes (MVA) in 45 MVA blocks. That is enough power for a city, Taylor said.

It's tough to get that much power at datacentre sites within the city limits of London. "Power is a very, very scarce commodity," Taylor said.

The former LG facility has design features that lend themselves well to becoming a datacentre. It has double-skin walls and was designed to be shudder-proof in order to make microchips.

NGD is also fortifying the facility to make it highly secure. A 12-foot (3.66-meters), military-grade fence extending into the ground will ring the facility with an infrared system beyond that to detect intruders. It will have thousands of closed-circuit television cameras, air-lock gates, retina-scan biometric entry systems and bulletproof and bomb-proof reinforcements in places.

"We've really gone to town on this," Taylor said.

The walls will resist fire for up to two hours. In the event of a power failure, 18,000 litres of diesel fuel is stored on site, which would keep the centre running for some 36 hours before more fuel would be needed. It has been classified as a Tier 3 facility by the Uptime Institute , which rates datacentres on infrastructure reliability and performance.

NGD has opted to only hire qualified ex-military personnel for its on-site guard force, which will be at the facility 24 hours a day.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for NGD is the site's location in Newport, about an hour and 45-minute train ride from London. Some server-hugging IT administrators don't like their equipment being very far away from their offices. But Taylor said those concerns are less relevant given that datacentres are typically managed from afar anyway.

NGD is hoping to sign up companies for long-term contracts. The facility has a total of 18 halls on three floors. The building will have a special section for small to medium-size enterprises and one for companies that are a bit larger. Those companies could either bring their own equipment or use hosting services offered by NGD.

Hosting space starts at 2,500 square feet. For large enterprises, the facility has 10,000-square foot and 20,000 square-foot halls. NGD said it can provide 1.5 kilowatts per square meter or 4 kilowatts per rack up to a maximum of 8 kilowatts per rack.

So far, NGD has commitments from clients for about 10 percent of the datacentre's 400,000 square feet of usable rack space and aims to fill the whole centre in three years.

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