PT launches Europe’s biggest, super green, ultra secure datacentre as cloud demand skyrockets

ITProPortal was invited to Covilhã this week to witness the launch of the "biggest datacentre in Europe", courtesy of Portugal Telecom (PT), and it was an impressive sight.

Standing proud in the mountainous city of Covilhã, the one-block structure resembles a huge dark cuboid, measuring in at 55 x 55 x 33m. It is surrounded by a water-filled moat, 600 local trees and 1,610 photovoltaic cells, and is easy to spot from some distance.

It boasts three 7m-high floors and six rooms with 520 square metres, packing 12,500 servers.

The datacentre is connected to two separate 60kV power grids, but also has 12 1,875kVA generators waiting in reserve in case of an emergency. PT says these are each capable of feeding a city of 100,000 inhabitants within eight seconds.

However, it is not just the immense scale of the datacentre that grabs the attention. Security and energy efficiency are definitely two of the biggest talking points.

At Monday's grand unveiling, PT made a big point of the lengths it has gone to in order to maintain the environment, and these can be seen both inside and outside the datacentre.

First of all, as well as being almost completely impervious to earthquakes, Covilhã happens to be one of the coldest areas in Portugal, and the only place in the country that gets snow. This predominantly chilly weather is the prime characteristic of the city as far as PT is concerned, because it is essential to one of the datacentre's most important technologies. It employs a much-lauded 'free cooling' system, which is essentially a very efficient air conditioning system. A series of wire meshes all around the building filter the surrounding area's colder air before it can be induced and used to keep the datacentre's facilities at an optimal temperature, which I am told will be 25 degrees Celsius.

Covilhã is also littered with lakes and various other bodies of water, which inspired the moat-type feature. This serves a functional purpose as well as an aesthetic one. It will collect rain water throughout the year, which will then be pumped around to cool the datacentre in the summer.

PT claims that these systems will allow it to use completely free chilling methods during 99 per cent of the year – alternative energy-fuelled cooling machines will be used for six days or less per annum. The centre has a PUE (power usage effectiveness) of 1.25, which PT claims is significantly better than the industry average of 1.88. As mentioned above, the datacentre is also home to over 1,600 solar panels and hundreds of plants.

In this post-Prism era, where data protection has become of massive interest to technology buffs and novices alike, PT has pulled out all the stops. As well as customary fences topped with frighteningly jagged-looking laminated wire and a 24/7 security team, the datacentre requires a number of further forms of identification from prospective visitors.

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All entrants require access cards and human authorisation to pass the first levels of protection but, if they wish to gain admission to the very heart of the datacentre, PT has incorporated two extremely specific technologies.

The first is what the company calls "palm-vein". This is a scanner that analyses human hands and the blood vessels in a particular part of the palm, in order to accurately identify visitors. Furthermore, a special calculator records the weight of all visitors, who will only then be allowed to leave if they weigh the same when they exit as they did when they entered, cancelling out any risk of theft or alternative forms of foul play.

The very design of the datacentre – a bold block covered head-to-toe in resistant laminated aluminium and surrounded by water – is intended to symbolise safety and protection, according to PT.

In time, the datacentre will feature three additional blocks, and will cost a staggering €90 million to build. The complete datacentre will increase the number of PT servers nine-fold, from 6,000 to 56,000, and storage capacity eleven-fold, from 3PB to 33PB.

However, it is clear that this launch is not just a huge achievement for PT, but a significant project for the country as a whole, which is currently experiencing major economic difficulties. "Long live Portugal" was one of the main messages of the day, and PT CEO Zeinal Bava was keen to confirm that the company would be more than happy to sell capacity to its rivals. However, the firm also stressed that it is not simply in the rackspace business.

PT says the datacentre will create a total of 1,400 jobs, and will enable deep ties with Covilhã's University of Beira Interior, which has strong IT links, particularly with the cloud.

PT believes that the new datacentre was a necessary development, since the world is consuming more and more data. "This is why we have invested so heavily in such a sophisticated infrastructure and are leveraging it to reflect the trends we are seeing taking place across all developing markets," said Bava. "Our new datacentre will enable us to expand our global positioning in the cloud and datacentre services market."

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