Jan 29

I have been to Valhalla, and it is green…

Valhalla (spelled Walhalla in Valenciano) is a state of the art data center certified to the TIA-942, Tier 4 specification.  It is capable of housing up to 27000 servers in Phase I (Phases II and III add the capability for housing a further 27000 servers in each) and it was purpose designed by TISSAT to minimize energy usage while maximizing availability.  Even more interesting, TISSAT packages its data center capabilities the energy cost exposure is included as part of the service you buy.

TISSAT owns and has been operating for many years a conventional data center in Valencia, on Spain’s East Coast.  When you visit this data center you see the same ordered confusion — of cables and cramped space — found in most data centers today, especially those with tens to hundreds of racks and thousands of standard blades, storage, etc.  TISSAT realized that though, or perhaps because, this data center was fully populated, the conventional approach to data center design was no longer sustainable for its expansion.  It also knew from its own experience that the Achilles Heel of modern data centers (and for customers) is less today about processing and more about energy consumption and reliability.

After researching the challenges in detail a group of founder investors (Note 1) — that included IBM, Iberdrola (a power supplier), Telefonica (the telephone company) and the Generalitat Valenciana (the local government, which is a significant customer of TISSAT’s existing data center) — decided to design and build a new type of data center which would be radically different and focus on energy efficiency in addition to availability.  This is what is now Walhalla (Note 2) which is located on the outskirts of Castellón de la Plata, about 60Kms North of Valencia.

Why Castellón, which is a modest though agreeable city?  There were multiple, and practical, reasons:

  • the Parque Cientifico where Walhalla is located is on the campus of the Universídad de Jaume I, with access to its highly educated population
  • the University campus has both space and an active start up community on-site; there was additional space nearby to expand (for example for Phases II and III, once Phase I is populated) as well as for additional start-ups
  • Castellón is on the Eastern side of the Madrid-Barcelona-Valencia triangle that connects Spain’s largest three cities, with high quality transport, energy and communications networks within 1KM of the Parque Cientifico
  • the Castellón area is already a sophisticated energy user (because of its famed ceramics industry) and has access to ports (from Alicante in the South to Tarragona in the North) for importing that energy; the area is not subject to the same energy/power constraints in the way, for example, that Madrid now experiences because of the latter’s recent rapid growth
  • the distance from the existing data center in Valencia is 60Kms, close enough to work with yet far enough to provide catastrophic disaster fail-over; there is a 10Gbs fiber optic connection (with additional dark fiber capacity available) enabling redundancy as well as mutual remote data center management.

Using these advantages TISSAT designed Walhalla to satisfy the TIA-942, Tier 4 requirements (Note 3).  For example Walhalla has 3 (4 if you count the banks of UPS) power sources:

  • the primary is its own, dual natural gas power generation facility
  • the secondary is the Spanish national electricity grid, with dual, separate sub-station connections
  • the tertiary is diesel generation (again with dual capabilities).

Similarly, all other facilities — like communications, both internal and external — are duplicated.  Cooling and energy recovery are the same, and surplus energy can be resold to the grid.

But, when you visit Valhalla which is just coming online with initial space being used by moving some customers from TISSAT’s existing Valencia data center, it is the simplicity and space which is striking.  For example, power to the racks comes from (twin) sources located high above each of the racks.  Cooling comes from (twin) lines that are mounted above the corridors between the racks; similarly the heat generated by the servers and storage is extracted via multiple ‘chimneys’ located directly above the racks before it is removed from the 500m2 data floor.  The cabling (mostly fiber, and dual) runs up above the racks.  In total all this produces both clarity and simplicity.  Walhalla is clearly a more pleasant environment to work in, not least because there is so much more space and with that so much less likelihood of operational confusion.

Thus Walhalla really is green (aided by minimal net output of NOx, SO2, CO2 and hydrocarbons).  It is optimized around a design which keeps the usage of energy to a practical minimum, yet without losing sight of the Tier 4 data center reliability requirements.  TISSAT’s approach, bundling energy usage within its per rack pricing, also makes sense — because TISSAT knows about, and has the capabilities, to buy as well as sell energy.  These are skills that not only make a modern data center green, but are becoming an essential for modern data centers.

Walhalla has one other significant attraction.  It is inside the European Union (EU).  External (to the EU) organizations that wish to provide services to businesses or consumers in the EU on a coherent, ultra-reliable and energy efficient basis while meeting data and other EU standards/requirements have an opportunity in Walhalla to deliver these objectives.

On the primary evidence, Walhalla should atract organizations which want a European base that is demonstrable ‘green’, secure and avoids needing investment in their own internal IT data center facilities.  Walhalla should be even more attractive to SaaS and cloud service providers, as they will want fixed costs (including energy).  Time will tell.


Note 1  The ownership of Walhalla is now simpler with a mix of Telefonica, the Generalitat Valenciana (primarily) as well as TISSAT’s own management and others.

Note 2  More details about Walhalla and TISSAT at: http://www.tissat.es/walhalla

Note 3  The TIA grades Data Center from Tier 1-4, depending on capabilities and resources.  Tier 4 is the most complete and more details can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_center and http://www.adc.com/Attachment/1270711929361/102264AE.pdf

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