Japan Data Center Council Pays an Informative Visit to Vantage Data Center

The Japan Data Center Council (JDCC) is a consortium of data center operators and vendors in Japan with 170 members of various sizes. Because of the scarcity of news about Japanese data centers in English, there is seldom enough information about what Japanese operators consider challenges and new developments in their market. I tried for some time to get the JDCC to Silicon Valley to exchange information with local data center operators and experts. Finally, I convinced them to send a delegation and present their story at the recent Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s 5th Data Center Energy Summit.

While they were in town, I arranged for them to talk to data center experts, including those at Vantage Data Center. The best way to do that is to tour their facility and talk with the knowledgeable folks there. The JDCC folks had a good time in both the tour and the discussion. I visited Vantage Data Centers before and was impressed with their adoption of new technologies and operational methods. The Vantage campus is in Santa Clara, CA, and consists of three buildings, V1, V2, and V3. Intel had a manufacturing operation there when it owned the site, so some necessary infrastructure was already available. In November 2010, I attended a data center event in the building that is now named V1. On my last visit, I toured V3. At that time, V2 was under construction, V1 was being renovated, and V3 was partially occupied. This time V2 was completed and occupied. When I last visited, V2 was submitted to the USGBC for LEED Platinum certification, and V3 was certified for LEED Platinum. Now V2 is also certified as LEED Platinum, as the sign on the wall indicates in the following picture. It is very interesting to see how a data center goes through its development phases.

Front row from left: Hideki Okita (Hitachi), Leah Lovelace, Atsushi Yamanaka (IDC Frontier), and Rezin Brannon
Back row from left: Jun Sato (Mitsubishi), Minesh Patel, Christine Zinkgraf, and Justin Thomas.

In addition to touring V2, we exchanged information in a lively discussion. On a typical tour you tend to receive information but are not able to provide any meaningful information back. But in this meeting, some concrete information about data center operational methods and technologies was exchanged. I hope the Vantage people gained some useful information, almost nonexistent in English, about Japanese data centers. By the way, the following figure summarizes the highlights of V2. Other details are given here. The general information on their data centers, along with V1 and V3, is available here.

Highlights of V2 data center

The remainder of this blog summarizes the discussion between Vantage and the JDCC.

Locations/siting: In the US, data centers are everywhere, in urban, suburban, and rural parts of the country. In addition to its site in Santa Clara, Vantage is constructing a new data center in Quincy, in central Washington State along the Columbia River, where hydropower is abundant and inexpensive. Dell, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo have data centers in the same vicinity. As is often discussed, some of the major factors in siting a data center are (1) inexpensive and ample power, (2) fiber availability, and (3) market. Silicon Valley satisfies (2) and (3) for sure, and (1) partially, with Silicon Valley Power. On the other hand, central Washington satisfies (1) and (2).

Vantage has two dedicated substations (50 MW each) and is a carrier neutral for providers with over 10 coming into their data center in Santa Clara, so they easily satisfy power and fiber requirements. On top of that, it is in Santa Clara, the heart of Silicon Valley, and has access to the Valley market.

In Japan, most (70%) data centers are in Tokyo and the surrounding area. Hitachi’s data centers are mostly in urban areas, and Mitsubishi has only urban data centers. Softbank IDC Frontier had only urban data centers before but recently constructed new ones south and north of Tokyo in nonurban settings. Their list can be found here. People in the US tend to think Japanese operators look for a place where power cost is the lowest. However, there is very little difference in the price of power throughout the country. Before the disaster, the only siting criterion was to be situated in the urban Tokyo area. Most major companies’ headquarters are concentrated in Tokyo, and server hugging is given as another reason for that.

Power consumption: We can talk about power consumption in terms of kW per square foot or kW per rack. Because of the metric system used in Japan, kW per square foot was not a good unit to use in our discussion. IDC Frontier provides a colo service and its rack density averages around 8 kW/rack, but it does not have anything like 20 kW/rack. Vantage’s power density varies from 3–5 kW/rack to 12–15 kW/rack.

Power supply/delivery: Vantage’s power system is 2N and the data centers have two distinct power supply paths for redundancy. This satisfies Uptime’s Tier 4 definition from that perspective, but they do not meet the other requirements for Tier 4. So this may be classified as Tier 4 minus. The data center under construction in Quincy qualifies as Uptime Tier 3. By the way, the JDCC felt that they needed a guideline that is similar to Uptime’s but more reflective of the Japanese environment, which includes fewer power outages and more active seismic conditions. So they have created their own.

UPS equipment: Vantage listed MGE/Schneider Toshiba as UPS vendors. The first is utilized in their legacy spaces and the latter is used in their new energy efficient designs. The JDCC said that Japanese operators prefer Japanese vendors like Mitsubishi and Hitachi, although APC/MGE/Schneider has a presence in Japan. The reason for the preference is the lack of solid technical support. The offices of foreign vendors in Japan are more like sales offices without competent technical staff who can service their products in Japanese.

Cooling: Vantage uses air economizer extensively. When the temperature is below 95°F, ambient air is used for free cooling, which is more than 80% of the time in Santa Clara. Air economizer was not used in Japan before, but some data centers built in the past few years, like the ones by IDC Frontier, are now equipped with this feature. The conventional raised floor becomes ineffective when power density exceeds more than several kW/rack. In Japan, most data centers still use raised floors for cooling, but some operators, like IDC Frontier, provide both the raised and the slab floor with hot-air containment.

LEED and LEED equivalents: While EPA’s data center EnergyStar rating is taking time to sink in, LEED has become the de facto standard for data center energy efficiency. Vantage makes an extra effort to get certified with LEED. Each country has its own version of such certification. In Japan, Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency (CASBEE) is used for certification.

I am sure I missed some other interesting discussions, but overall it was a good opportunity for the JDCC to see the data center that reflects the current trends of technologies and operations. Thanks to Vantage for the opportunity!

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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