The banking group has become the first company in Spain to have a data centre that meets the maximum reliability level accredited by the Uptime Institute
(Interview with Juan Grau Navarro, published in edition no. 4 of the DatacenterDynamics FOCUS magazine)
Just over two dozen data centres in the world that can guarantee the highest level of service continuity and availability, as recognised by the TIER IV certification, the highest rating awarded by the Uptime Institute. The new BBVA DPC II, located at the Tres Cantos Technology Complex (Madrid), is now a member of this group, having received its certification in December 2010.
In order to get to know this new BBVA data centre (a construction that incorporates the latest technologies in energy efficiency and modularity, with design and technological consultancy carried out by HP), we interviewed Juan Grau Navarro, the man in charge of the financial group’s European data centres.
Juan Grau: It was decided that the new DPC would be at the forefront of technology, as a basic requirement for these facilities, which should be operational over the next few decades. To give us an idea, the current DPC has already been in operation for 26 years, and we hope the new one will exceed this.
As such, the more solid and the more advanced the construction, the more chance it has of securing the future of the centre. This provides us with growth in line with the group’s ambitious expansion plans.
DcD FOCUS: Most corporations looking for a high degree of reliability are usually satisfied with TIER III or III+. Why the higher TIER IV level?
Juan Grau: The current DPC is a TIER III+ and it’s a good centre. But thinking to the future, it’s natural that we tend towards the most advanced infrastructure, because this is what we think will be of benefit to the bank.
For us, building a TIER III facility at this time would be half measures. Having a TIER IV provides us with unlimited potential for growth, which is what the bank is asking of us with its ambitious business plans, and obviously our mission from a technological standpoint is to keep in step with these plans.
DcD FOCUS: Do you think that with the new high-density, virtualised environments, and with cloud computing in the making, it is necessary to have this level of security at a centre such as yours?
Juan Grau: These technologies are those that are most required by dedicated centres with very high levels of availability. BBVA made a commitment to virtualised environments to the point where nowadays we cannot conceive of a system that is not of this type. This requires powerful servers that must be located in well-prepared centres. The same thing is happening with the cloud.
DcD FOCUS: This being a private, corporate centre that is not going to market any hosting services, what does having the TIER IV accreditation give you externally, compared with not obtaining certification?
Juan Grau: In terms of our clients, it gives them greater peace of mind; i.e. a lesser risk of undesirable events happening to their bank, and a guarantee of greater availability. Risk is always what clients assess the most in this type of installation.
DcD FOCUS: How was the process of obtaining the certification?
Juan Grau: The process commenced with the design of the new DPC. This has to comply with a series of design, redundancy and availability requirements to the highest possible level. The design was sent to the Uptime Institute, which evaluated the project and suggested possible questions and doubts over the design. It also made improvement recommendations. Once the points had been explained and the recommendations implemented, the certification was obtained.
Obviously, the complicated part is the design itself, the acceptance of costs and the selection of technological infrastructure in keeping with each organisation. In the case of BBVA, the commitment is clear. Then, in a second phase, the facility will be certified through the testing carried out on each element of the DPC.
DcD FOCUS: You mention the design as a complicated part of the process. What technological challenges did you have to overcome to achieve the TIER IV certificate?
Juan Grau: When you build a TIER IV centre, in which all systems have to be redundant (and not just normal redundancy, but redundancy of redundancy), everything is a challenge.
The main difficulty was in duplicating totally separate paths, which was necessary to avoid single points of failure in each and every one of the redundant elements (electrical connections, UPS, generators, production of cold air, water piping, fuel supply, monitoring system, etc.).
In the case of the electrical system, for example, the infrastructure uses independent connections, totally separate with regard to the substation, and this represented a formidable challenge.
DcD FOCUS: In Europe the number of data centres with a design approved as TIER IV by the Uptime Institute can be counted on one hand, and of these, two are Spanish. What do you make of this? Do these accreditations place Spain at the cutting edge?
Juan Grau: Of course it’s an interesting fact, and it has to be positive that in Spain we are committing to the construction of high-availability data centres and becoming world leaders in technology.
DcD FOCUS: Yet it seems that Spain is not exactly on the map when it comes to siting data centres –the climate, energy prices, etc. Do you think that these accreditations will help to prove that Spain has plenty to say about data centre infrastructure with a view to the international market?
Juan Grau: The cost of energy is a negative factor in the construction of DPCs, but there are also positive elements that should be taken into consideration and which can sway this type of decision. The climate can be a positive, given the absence of high-risk weather events, plus Spain is in the euro area, it has good communications and a technically qualified workforce, which is another important success factor.
DcD FOCUS: In addition to security, nowadays the certifications place an emphasis on energy efficiency. Did you consider this factor in the design of the centre?
Juan Grau: Of course. BBVA as a company is committed to sustainability. Proof of this is the Global Eco-efficiency Plan, which was initiated in 2008. We want to contribute to this by making our facilities a model when it comes to energy efficiency. In fact, once the DPC is operating with the TIER IV certification, it will also be certified with the ISO-14001 environmental standard.
We have tackled energy efficiency in multiple areas. In terms of the building’s design, a number of chambers have been installed that perfectly insulate the computer room to prevent energy losses.
We have also incorporated an exchange system that uses the cool air from the street when the temperature allows it (which is during a particularly lengthy part of the year), in order to reduce the use of built-in cooling systems. Lastly, we have implemented a cogeneration solution to use hot air from the DPC to heat the offices.
DcD FOCUS: The design of the centre also makes considerable use of modularity. Could you mention some of its technical characteristics?
Juan Grau: The data centre has 1,500 m2 of technical space, constructed in Phase 1, with an expansion area of an additional 500 m2. The room is modulated in 500 m2 blocks, allowing the amount of energy supplied to each of these modules to be reduced, should the need arise.
This means that the room is an open-plan area of 1,500 m2 but internally it is subdivided into three areas, each managed independently with a view to energy efficiency. In Phase 2, the current DPC will be renovated so that it too achieves the TIER IV rating, with the addition of a further 1,500 m2 of room space.
It must be pointed out that, although they share the same site, these centres are fully independent, and there are no common features shared by the two centres: they have no shared connections either in terms of electricity, cooling or water. Each is capable of supplying itself.
The total power of the centre (including the new DPC, future expansions and offices) is 13.5 MW and the power density is extremely high at 3,000 watts per m2.