Data centre delivers high efficiency for UK’s largest Housing Association


When substantial business growth required Sanctuary Group to design and build a new data centre, the organisation selected APC’s InfraStruXure architecture for a high density facility to host an increasing number of virtualised machines. Sanctuary also chose to target exhaust heat as a resource rather than a waste by-product and as a result, the new facility supplies heating for three buildings at the organisations’ Headquarters campus.

“When both BMS and InfraStruXure Central are reporting the same error we know we’re acting on good information. We get so much information via InfraStruXure Central, it even helped us isolate and resolve a humidity error before the room was sealed,” commented Ben Andrews, Server Infrastructure Manager at Sanctuary.

Established in 1969, Sanctuary Group is a successful and growing housing provider, managing in excess of 75,000 homes throughout the UK. These include general rented, sheltered and supported housing, student and key worker accommodation and registered care homes.

Keith Jackson, Sanctuary’s Director of Asset Management explains, “Our aim is to provide good quality homes that meet the needs of the diverse communities in which we work and shape flexible, cost-effective and appropriate services that are valued by all our customers. As a not for profit organisation, all income goes into maintaining high standards and updating and developing new services.”

Sanctuary is a continually evolving organisation with a track record of mergers and acquisitions. In the last fifteen years Sanctuary has introduced a new care division and Sanctuary Management Services, all of which has added to the size of its business and IT requirements alike.

Sanctuary’s sophisticated property management system, for example, must be available at all times to ensure the comfort and wellbeing of its customers is always top priority.

Sanctuary’s application requirements run far beyond the scope of traditional housing systems, in addition to scheduling emergency repairs and regular maintenance, the organisation needs to create and manage comprehensive financial records, as well as fulfilling HR requirements and, of-course, email services.

Unsurprisingly, the growth of the organisation and its service offering both raised its compute power requirements, putting a strain on existing data centre resources. Despite the fact that Sanctuary had a relatively modern facility, it was soon found to be lacking the cooling capacity to provision a forward thinking IT strategy which combines virtualisation, consolidation onto blade servers and thin client computing for its 5300-strong organisation.

Keith Jackson said: “With the substantial business growth, the current infrastructure became inefficient and incapable of serving future requirements.”

Ben Andrews, Server Infrastructure Manager, continued: “The old room was designed with a hot aisle / cool aisle layout. But the cooling vents were poorly positioned and this made it difficult for us to utilise the full capacity of the room. We had limited airflow, not greatly helped by a low ceiling and underfloor obstructions. The room was designed to support 4kW/ rack position but with the growing business we regularly experienced peak loads of 9kW in some racks. Additionally the room suffered with solar gain, adding to the pressure on cooling capacity.”

Working together with APC by Schneider Electric and consulting firm JESP Services, Sanctuary conceived the idea to build a new data centre which would effectively be a room within a room. In this way, the new facility was designed to overcome issues such as solar gain and air leaks, and implement a modern data centre environment which would accommodate a dynamic, high density load running on VM’s in a highly virtualised network.

A key enabling technology was APC’s InfraStruXure on-demand data centre architecture with Hot Aisle Containment. InfraStruXure fully integrates power, cooling, rack, management, security and services. InfraStruXure can be configured for any IT environment, from a wiring closet to a mega data centre. The selection of modular, standardised and pre-engineered components enables bespoke data centre solutions to be built up.

Measuring approximately 22m x 6m, the new Sanctuary data centre houses four communications racks together with 42x APC NetShelter equipment racks and 12x APC InRow RP cooling units, configured as a single hot aisle containment solution. APC’s close coupled cooling methodology brings the cooling units closer to the IT load, to provide a high efficiency, high density solution.

Exhaust air has a shorter run to the CRAC units, meaning that less energy is expended on fans for air movement. Additionally less heat energy is lost during air movement, which was desirable because Sanctuary proposed to use it to heat their office building.

Keith Jackson explained: “We talked about the amount of heat that was going to be generated by the new room and decided from the outset that we wanted to put it to good use.

“We considered free cooling, but practical considerations ruled it out. In particular, our town centre location meant that the noise of the free cooling chillers would be unacceptable to the local community.

“However, we turned the problem into an opportunity. The building, and therefore the air conditioning, was being run on a 24×7 basis. This meant that on hot summer nights we were creating too much noise – invariably just at the time when our neighbours were opening windows to cool down their houses and get families settled for the night. The new system runs silently, so residents close by are much happier!”

Peter Bush of JESP Services added: “We reclaim all the heat out of the data centre cooling system. So in a sense it’s free cooling because we actually make good use of the heat which the system generates. This seems to us to be less wasteful than simply venting exhaust heat in to the atmosphere.”

The new 400kW data centre also includes APC Switched PDUs, full environmental monitoring using APC NetBotz sensors and APC Netbotz cameras to monitor the physical environment and control access. APC InfraStruXure Central software is also deployed for remote management of the data centre, environmental control and access management. The new facility enables dynamic rack densities configurable from 6-8kW and in-built intelligence reduces cooling provision when not required by the IT load. The management software is also enabling Sanctuary to gradually lift cooling inlet temperatures in order to gain greater energy efficiency.

Mark Cooper, Server Infrastructure Technician at Sanctuary said: “Effectively we run a private cloud by providing all essential central services from the data centre. Clients can connect via the internet to access applications in the office and at home. We put the operating system and applications into the data centres – that’s what VDI offers – service and workload are provisioned from there. We are dependent upon a stable infrastructure to ensure that it all works.”

“But by bringing more of the processing power into the data centre, we can also in turn run lower powered thin client devices. For example, our 600 branch offices have also had their energy costs reduced because the thin clients they use to access applications are significantly less energy hungry than desktop computers. This also means we need less comfort air conditioning in the branches because we’re not cooling PCs!”

Ben Andrews said: “The IT strategy at Sanctuary is to move towards smaller form factor IT equipment such as blade technology. We are also virtualising servers so we need an environment which will support and host virtual machines. In the old facility compaction was a big factor – older legacy data centres not built to house blade servers, even when using the power capping capabilities of the products.”

“Past experiences that we’ve had with older data centre environments have left us with facilities and electrical concerns. However, with the new APC data centre, as long as there’s space in a rack, we know that we can mount and operate a server. With older infrastructure we always needed to juggle things around – there’s always the chance that something could get dislodged or knocked out resulting in the loss of an IT service.”

“APC’s InfaStruXure Central was a saving grace which helped us overcome teething problems with the chiller units whilst bringing on phase two of the development. We had had to migrate into the new data centre in two halves and the management software enabled us to avert what could have been a major problem when a maintenance guy had turned both chillers off simultaneously. It was pure human error but we were alerted via InfraStruXure Central and were able therefore to manually get the second chiller unit running. Visual monitoring provides a quick dashboard indication of the environment – we just look for green ticks to let us know everything is good.”

“We are monitoring all sorts of physical parameters so we can quickly see if things are going wrong. The system is set up so that you get automated text messages to let you know when you have a problem. We can also monitor the physical state of the data centre remotely from home or via a hand held device.”

“We run an independent Building Management System, which provides alerts sent directly to our smart phones. When both BMS and InfraStruXure Central are reporting the same error we know we’re acting on good information. We get so much information via InfraStruXure Central, it even helped us isolate and resolve a humidity error before the room was sealed.”

“I love APC’s InfraStruXure,” said Ben Andrews, “It has enabled an aesthetically pleasing data centre which helps us to demonstrate our expertise in the secure hosting of data and applications.”

Concluding, Keith Jackson said: “The new Sanctuary data centre stands out because of it’s heat recovery and energy efficiency capability. We’re always looking for practical efficiencies wherever we can make them. But we’re also getting better system availability – I’m more than 99.9% certain that my computer will work when I turn it on.”


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