Telehouse South: Upgrading a historic data centre building
Telehouse Europe
Data Centre Consolidation/Upgrade Project Of The Year
Entry Description
What was the driving force behind the project? What business or technology challenge needed to be addressed?

In 2021, Telehouse began its most ambitious infrastructural and aesthetic data centre upgrade project to-date – the refurbishment of Telehouse South.

An upgrade of a 32-year-old historic data centre building at Docklands, the project was driven predominantly by increasing customer demand for efficient hybrid IT infrastructure and connectivity. Customers wanted to be able to expand and grow on the existing Telehouse Docklands campus and Telehouse had a window of opportunity to deliver the extra capacity required to meet this demand or risk losing out to competitors.

Time was of the essence, with many businesses needing to transform and scale their IT architecture, fast. Building a new facility from scratch would have taken too long to meet the pressing IT needs of Telehouse customers and new businesses looking for extra agility, so the only alternative was a data centre refurbishment / upgrade.

With capacity already quite constrained in the Docklands and competition high, it was important that the new facility maintained close proximity to the City. It was also important that the facility offered a direct connection to the existing four data centres at the Telehouse London Docklands campus, enabling customers to benefit from the same unrivalled connectivity and access to a diverse ecosystem of partners, including leading Internet Exchanges, Cloud Service Providers, Internet Service Providers and Content Service Providers.

To provide a fast and secure solution, Telehouse acquired a historic data centre building at London Docklands – now known as Telehouse South – with a goal of completely refurbishing and modernising it to bring it in line with Telehouse standards. But as one of the very first data centres in the Dockland’s area, it wasn’t going to be an easy task.

The demand for resilient colocation services in London from financial services organisation as well as content and media companies largely steered the direction of the reconstruction project in terms of capacity and power. With 10,000 sqm of colocation space, 15MW of total power and over 4,000 racks distributed across six floors, the fifth data centre offers reliability, security, scalability and growth opportunities that Telehouse existing customers were after.

How did the solution address the challenges and were there any particularly innovative aspects that made it stand out?

The project was Telehouse’s most ambitious infrastructural and aesthetic reconstruction and the first project of such a scale and type for Telehouse in Europe.

Choosing one of the first data centres on the Docklands was a strategic choice for Telehouse and its customers. Unlike other competitors in the Docklands, the facility already had the necessary security, perimeter and fencing requirements in place to adhere to the high security standards for which Telehouse is known.

As the new data centre building stands on reclaimed land, close to residential and commercial areas, the project also had to respect the local landscape, with solutions put in place to minimise any sound disruptions.

As part of the upgrade, a lot of work had to be done to re-orientate the building and enable innovation within existing design constraints. Unlike other Telehouse data centres which have one large data hall, Telehouse South has 6 data halls spread across different floors, with structural pillars throughout, meaning the company had to move away from its usual design and explore innovative ways to create and use white space.

Telehouse wanted to create a blank canvas to enable it to re-design the facility, so the entire building was first stripped to its shell and core. This was necessary to reimagine the space around the load-bearing pillars and modernise the facility to the same standard as the other Telehouse London Docklands data centres.

Every aspect of the design and refurbishment was analysed and considered in meticulous detail. For example, the physical location of meet me rooms was chosen to enable telecommunications providers to conveniently terminate their equipment. Running 6,000 dark fibres routes and making the critical connections to the iconic Docklands campus had to be coordinated closely with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, as well as carriers to provide a seamless solution.

The ongoing evolution of what businesses put on the data centre racks also defined the design of the new facility. For example, with racks heavier now than when they were back in 1989, Telehouse had to ensure lifts were fit-for-purpose.

In keeping with the existing London Docklands data centres, the new facility needed to be a zero-carbon data centre, compliant with GHG Protocol Scope 2 and be powered by 100% renewable energy procured from wind, solar, biomass and hydro generators. The sustainability element was to meet the requirements of businesses seeking to partner with data centre service providers that can help them meet their own climate change goals and support the UK 2050 decarbonisation targets. The new facility does not only use 100% renewable energy but is also fitted with the multi-storey adiabatic cooling system which Telehouse pioneered.

What major challenges were faced during the project and how were they overcome?

The reconstruction project of the Telehouse South building began in March 2021 amid the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in the occurrence of several challenges that had to be overcome along the way.

As consecutive lockdowns and government restrictions were introduced, achieving construction milestones proved to be one of the most difficult tasks in an era of continuously changing safety measures. However, throughout the project, Telehouse placed the upmost importance on ensuring the health and safety of all workers as per the UK guidelines, remaining resilient and prepared to implement new measures as soon as the advice altered. It is due to the awareness, adaptability and responsiveness of the business that the project was able to continue as planned.

One year into the pandemic and not so long after the reconstruction started, the global supply chain was met with many disruptions and shipment slowdowns, causing worldwide shortages of raw materials and backlogs of key logistical hubs. As a result, the project faced longer lead times for microchips and other goods as they were being held at French ports.

The impact of supply chain disruptions could not have been entirely avoided; however, Telehouse had foreseen the possibility before beginning the project. Thanks to great resource management and planning, the data centre provider to meet a very tight deadline and a timescale of just 11 months.

Alongside the pandemic and the resulting global supply chain crisis, the aftermath of Brexit introduced its own hurdles along the project’s way. Many of Telehouse’s trusted and skilled workforce assigned to the Telehouse South reconstruction returned home as the Brexit transition period ended, post-Brexit immigration rules were tightened, and their visas were not extended. Despite that, the Telehouse project management team managed to co-ordinate and pull together a strong team of as many as 175 contractors – more employees than at Telehouse Europe itself – to deliver the project on time.

Apart from the external factors, the Telehouse South facility was also very dated, with no major upgrades done to the building since it was built 32 years ago. Unlike Telehouse’s other Docklands data centres, Telehouse South was built with load-bearing pillars in the middle. To make the visualisation process easier and make the space as efficient and fit-for-purpose as possible, Telehouse used 3D modelling, which helped get the project off the ground quicker and take the desired shape.

What tangible benefits has the organisation seen as a result of the project’s implementation?

The reconstruction project of Telehouse South was the biggest data centre upgrade in Europe for Telehouse and an important undertaking to deliver on the promise to its customers to expand its Docklands campus - the most connected data centre campus in Europe.

The first phase of the project was completed in less than 12 months from acquisition and an overall investment of £223.3 million. The first floor of colocation space at Telehouse South, provides the capacity for up to 667 racks and 2MW of power, with a further upgrade to 2.5MW split across two data halls scheduled for the end of 2023.
A network of 6,000 dark fibre routes, in an equivalent distance from London to Japan, now connects the new facility to other Telehouse data centres, allowing customers to benefit from 800+ connectivity partners and build a business-critical connected ecosystem that facilitates their growth and expansion opportunities of their own. Customers can now benefit from the campus’ prime location and low latency connectivity to London’s financial district.

The launch of Telehouse’s fifth data centre has already met with high demand from OTT providers, post-production companies, service providers and financial service organisations who want to leverage the company’s Docklands ecosystem for connectivity, scalability and security.

As the demand for colocation space in London continues, Telehouse anticipates that it will have sold at least a quarter of the space at Telehouse South before its official opening in March 2022. The full building comprises of six floors of data halls, at 2.5 megawatts each, with all capacity expected to be filled by the back end of 2025. Further investments in the Docklands campus are set to reach £1 billion by 2025.