Boutique data centre aims for 100 per cent solar

Micron21 aims for five-star NABERS rating

Victorian data centre operator Micron21 has plans in play to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy and achieve a five-star NABERS rating, according to CEO James Braunegg.

The shift to renewables – the company has signed an agreement to purchase energy from a solar provider whose operations are not yet online – comes on the heels of a significant refit process at the boutique data centre, which is located in the suburb of Kilsyth, some 30 kilometres west of Melbourne's CBD.

The refit, which has been accompanied by an upgrade of Micron21's international network capacity, is the latest step on an unusual journey that has involved the company shifting from being in the printing business to offering data centre services.

Micron21 started as a prepress spin-off from RA Printing. RA Printing invested in its own platemaking equipment and decided to make its pre-press facilities available to other companies, setting up Micron21 as an independent company. (The company's name comes from the use of 21 micron dots on printing plates.)

Australia Post approached Micron21 to start producing stamps, which meant the company had to invest in a significant facilities upgrade. "We said 'absolutely, we'd love to'," Braunegg said.

"So in went all the solid concrete doors. In went all the security, all the auditing, all the cameras and the place was locked down like Fort Knox. Then they turned around and said, 'That's great. You've now got the physical security, but the rules and regulations have changed again, and now all data must travel over a network that you control and own."

Micron21 had to choose between moving offices, losing the Australia Post business or deploying its own fibre network.

"Justified by Australia Post and existing RA clients, we built a fibre network from Melbourne to Kilsyth, which is about a 45 km build," Braunegg said.

After the network build, the CEO and founder says he took a step back and decided to change Micron21's business entirely. The pre-press work was put back into RA Printing, and Micron21 became a data centre operator.

Braunegg said that Micron21 cuts out resellers and sells directly to customers. He's happy to admit that Micron21's capacity is dwarfed by larger DC operators, but says that the company's selling point is the level of redundancy it provides and its holistic model where it offers not just power and cooling, but network and additional services such as DDoS mitigation.

The data centre has been operated for about half a decade now. It started with a tiny three racks, then grew to eight racks. Now, it has grown to a still very modest 45 racks, but there are plans to keep growing.

"We're still in the building process, but right now we're a 45-rack facility," Braunegg said.

"We designed the facility to be extremely high density; so upwards of 30KW usable on every single rack. When we actually replaced all of the infrastructure early this year, we went for an architecture where we provide a huge amount of power, cooling and security directly to each rack.

"We do individual power metering for every single C13 socket within the rack. We have 96 metered sockets in every single rack, we have dedicated redundant cooling for every single rack, and we have 20 gigabits of uplink capacity to the Internet for every single rack."

Braunegg said that Micron21 had built a network that could cope with a rapid increase in network-hungry customers, investing in five MLXe routers from Brocade to deliver a 100G routing platform.

"Brocade thought we were crazy [when we first bought them," Braunegg said. "The other [networking vendors] said there's no way you need that kind of capacity. Fact is: We bought it, we're using it and we're extremely happy with it because it gave us scalability. For us the network is really the difference between who we are and a lot of our competitors."

"We knew we needed the performance, we knew we needed the scalability and we knew we wanted to expand," the CEO said.

"It wasn't just, 'Let's invest some money to solve today's problems'; it was 'Let's invest some money to take our network to the future."

Although the data centre's physical capacity has grown, Braunegg says its customers are going to remain those who are data hungry and need security but don't have a large server footprint.

"We've concentrated on providing a high level of mission critical data centre environment down to the client that really only wants a single RU," Braunegg said.

"And that's still our marketplace so we will never sell a full rack to a customer," he added, although he notes that the company partners with other data centres if customers need more space.

The current infrastructure refresh began late last year and involved moving clients into a new part of the building. Currently, the old part of the building is being demolished, with new construction for that area planned to be complete by early 2014.

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