Unisys marks decade at Kapiti datacentre

Datacentre grows as government agencies shift servers out of metropolitan, high risk areas

Ten years ago to the month Unisys took over the old National Bank datacentre at Kapiti, near Wellington. The company had decided to enter the world of outsourcing.

Today, the datacentre is the key facility for Unisys in the Asia-Pacific region.

A year ago, the company completed a major expansion of the datacentre to bring on board the latest energy-efficient practices and to allow for expansion as the business grew. Already, a good portion of the new area is populated.

Not bad, for a facility that in many respects had been a white elephant over the years. It was originally, in the 1980s, a warehouse for heavy machinery. Then the former New Zealand Electricity Department took it over with plans to house a large IBM water-cooled mainframe. NZED became a state-owned enterprise and those plans were dropped.

The next owner was the National Bank, which used it for its eftpos business and for some disaster recovery. But the Australian owner, ANZ Bank, had other plans and that business was moved elsewhere.

Mark Wendelken, a 30-year Unisys veteran, has been at Kapiti as datacentre manager since Unisys moved in. He has been in the datacentre business for 24 years.

“On day one it was mainly internal machines, supporting our customers,” he says. “Unisys was primarily a services company then and we gradually built up our blended services.

“Progressively a number of government agencies saw the need to move out of the metropolitan high-risk area and we’ve had steady growth since.”

Wendelken is proud of the fact that the datacentre can generate 1000 watts per square metre of power and that the new extension will be able to handle up to 2000 watts. That’s an important metric because all vendors and suppliers are going down the road of high density, all wanting more horsepower.

“Machines have got physically smaller and there are more in a rack,” Wendelken says. “That means more energy because they are building more processes into servers.

“A lot of datacentres struggle at three to four kilowatts per rack. We can accommodate on average five to six kilowatts.”

Much of these requirements are driven by the ubiquity of the internet. “Everyone wants more – and for free,” Wendelken says.

He says the overall costs of running a datacentre are only ever going up and that it is important to achieve economies of scale.

“A good analogy is a company like Boeing, which is only ever going to build bigger planes. That way, everyone can share the Rolls Royce.”

The Unisys datacentre houses more than 140 racks. It’s very much mixed technology, from all vendors and suppliers. The latest addition is a Sun M9000, which Wendelken says is the biggest business application machine in New Zealand. Its twin is housed at the Unisys datacentre in Auckland.

He says Unisys measures the success of the datacentre by how much customers are prepared to let go of. “There are concerns where people are linked to their systems. Some can’t let go. We call them server huggers.

“A lot of people forget we are a 24x7 operation. We have no operators here at night [just security staff]. We have a saying: ‘Do it right, touch it once’. Technology has moved on but some people haven’t.”

There are fewer than a dozen employees at the datacentre, including operators, and perhaps a dozen more on the helpdesk.

As for those of us who have flinched at the rising power bills through a cold winter, the Kapiti datacentre has to stump up around $80,000 a month for its electricity.

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