Thursday, February 18, 2016
The engines that drive the great world wide web are data centres. These are nodes on the Internet that connected to everybody and I want to take you on a  behind the scenes tour of a data centre that host all the applications and data. I reached out to Cover-All, a company based in Toronto to get a tour of their 10,000 sq. ft. datacentre. Cover-All offers, data centre management, cloud computing and outsourced IT services for their clients.

When I arrived at their facility, before I entered where all the hardware is located, I had to go through three doors that required a security pass to enter and was also equipped with video surveillance.  The Cover-All data centre is comprised of a control room, mainframe computers, storage devices that includes a robotic vending machine storage tape system, six 20-ton air conditioners, two 120 batteries back-up power units and two back-up diesel generators.

To ensure that the data has the most uptime there are systems in place to retrieve any lost data on back-up storage tapes or a mirror image of the data on another computer in a different location for disaster recovery scenarios. In case of a power outage the batteries engage for up to 17 seconds and then the twin diesel engine kicks in with enough fuel for 72 hours. There is always built into a data centre set-up, back up and double back up plans to ensure 24/7 uptimes for data and power.






The facility is protected from physical on-site attacks, network intrusions (logic attacks/ password security) and cyber attacks (hackers). Datacentres need to be certified (CSAE3416 compliance) in Canada and must have an annual security audit to be an accredited facility. There is a cloud of secrecy of the location of data in the industry as data theft is a prominent concern in all security protocols and being secretive is the norm.  You can imagine the security protocols for a VISA transaction datacentre that is as large as a football field; it is a virtual Fort Knox.

According to industry estimates there were 8 million data centres (source: IDC), in the world in 2014 with 3 million in the USA up from half a million in 2011 (Source: Emerson). I expect these estimates are below actual figures due to the secrecy in the industry. The growth of the number of data centres mirrors the growth of the use of smartphones and video consumption online. It has been estimated that there are 4.9 billion devices connected to the Internet in 2015 in a world where the population is 7.4 billion. The world’s largest data centre is located in Lanfang, China with a facility that measures 6.3 million sq. ft. This is equivalent to 43 Costco Warehouses that average 144,000 sq. ft. or 154 Canadian Tire Stores at 40,000 sq. ft.

These facilities need lots of power and some consume enough power of a small town. To cut down on power costs large-scale data centres favor cold climates, as cooling costs are 50% of power costs and is lower in cold climates. Barrie has become a Canadian hub and is home to BMO, TD Bank, Cogeco and IBM as these firms have built facilities in Barrie in the past few years.  A major USA hub is in Loudoun, Virginia, which is home to 60 data centres and boasts that 70% of world Internet traffic flows through their data centres. Some data centres have adopted green power strategies and some use solar and hydro to help power their Internet factories.

When choosing a data centre or web hosting facility, publishers must keep in mind of the privacy laws of that country where the data centre is located as data is not treated equally in each country. For example in the USA all data is subject to the Patriot Act (ie: terrorist security protocols) and other locations might not have the same security protocols and audit systems in place that have been established in Canada and the USA.

These power hungry internet factories are part and parcel of the digital industrial revolution and sometimes it is hard for me to fathom that you can reach over 1 billion websites in the world with the click of a mouse. On top of that there is a cloud of secrecy in the operations of the data centre so we should adopt the honour code from the movie “Fight Club”, please don’t talk about what you learned in this month’s posting or you may get a visit from the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club.

About Me
Martin Seto

Martin Seto is the producer of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAS) with 30 years of life expereince in technology, advertising, media and creative exploration. He can be reached at marty(dot)seto(at) or 416-907-6562, and on LinkedIn.

Most Recent Blog Comment
Lorene Shyba says:
Full of terrific information, Thanks!...
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