Imagine the typical industrial and business area of any town, in which hundreds of buildings adjoin with smooth, simple walls, with hardly any windows. Many businesses coexist in each of these blocks: car workshops, film studios, furniture stores … And a DPC, a data processing center where the Internet resides and is hosted.
MAD1 and MAD2 coexist in one of those plots of one of the most populous neighborhoods of Madrid and, just a few meters away, MAD3, which claims to be the largest active data center in all of Spain. Nothing on its exterior facade suggests that behind these walls, according to data from the owner company (Interxion), 60% of the Internet traffic in Spain passes.
As Robert Assink, the general director of Interxion in Spain, summarizes, a CPD is still a physical place where third-party data and the Internet cloud are hosted. In the case of this CPD that we visited, the company only takes care of the physical infrastructure and electricity. “We host mission-critical equipment, such as routers, servers, switches or storage from other companies, our clients, who install their equipment in our home.” From there, information and data are distributed to the rest of the internet.
Public and private rooms
Visiting a CPD of these characteristics is to do it in a building in which, along its corridors, we find different rooms or rooms. Both in these rooms and in the corridors, hundreds of cables, of various colors, rest on balconies at the top of the ceiling.
Rooms can be public or private. In the latter case, they are rooms in which there is only one company. For example, Facebook has its own room in this CPD where its servers, applications and data reside. Access to this part is restricted only to the personnel authorized by each company, in many cases being validated through biometric security.
Inside each room we can find cabinets, small black cubicles made up of different racks (or columns that can include the servers, storage and computing resources necessary for the infrastructure of each company).
Again, access to these cabinets must be done with the relevant accreditation and each rack has, in turn, keys and access codes, in order to further guarantee the security of everything that happens there.
The Internet Decks
Assink likes compare the role of neutral CPD companies (like yours) with Aena and Barajas airport. “Aena manages the airport, but does not operate the planes and does not provide other types of services. It has the structure. Then there are the airlines that operate at this airport, as well as other businesses around it, such as transportation, parking, restaurants, hotels and even luxury stores, ”he explains.
“We have, instead of an airport, a data center. The airlines here are telecommunications networks and a lot of companies that manage connectivity services. And then there are other businesses, which can be cloud-like, but also non-technology companies that host their technology in our home “, he details.
For this reason, these locations are a nexus of union, content and distribution, of all kinds of sectors. In other words, part of what we know as cloud or cloud computing resides in these data centers.
Several times around the world
To get an idea of what a CPD of these characteristics can move, we asked Assink for the number of servers, memory, teras of storage or computing capacity that its facilities house. “We do not know the exact data because they depend on our clients,” he justifies. “Like the Internet AENA, I know that Iberia uses my infrastructure, but I don’t know how many passengers it carries on its planes,” he continues with the simile.
However, between the three DPCs that Interxion has in operation and the fourth that it is building a few meters away, the capacity of these facilities allows it to house 9,000 racks or 250,000 servers in the 23,000 square meters of space for rooms, in which 120,000 kilometers of fiber connections coexist with 45 MW of electrical power (consumption equivalent to that of 110,000 homes), which makes it, after the Madrid Metro, the company that consumes the most electricity in the Community.
Only in the amount of cables that are deployed, each of these CPDs could go around the world a couple of times.
What they do measure without the connections that occur between two independent companies and, they say, are 12,000, which would be equivalent to 60% of Internet traffic. Among the more than 350 clients that Interxion has, “are social networks that we all know, streaming platforms such as Twitch, YouTube or Netflix” as well as other corporations, such as Ferrovial, Gestamp, Correos or Seur. More than 100 connectivity options pass through its networks, between operators, neutral points or submarine cables, as well as connection to large public clouds (Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud, Salesforce, Alibaba Cloud).
Cold, but not so cold
In the old CPDs they used to be places where it was cold. In fact, it was ensured that the cost of refrigeration was, on many occasions, greater than that of the computation itself. So much so that the Social Security CPD will move from Madrid to Soria to, precisely, spend less on cooling the facility.
In these modern installations, cold air comes out of the floor (and not the ceiling) specifically targeted at racks within cabinets. A ventilation system that actually resides on the roof of the building. This is where the chillers are located, powerful machines (larger in size than a container on ships) responsible for, as their name suggests, cooling these facilities where necessary.
Controlling the proper functioning of these chillers is key to the proper functioning of the rest of the machinery that coexists in the DPC. In fact, in the last snowstorm Filomena was one of the key points that the CPD operators had to keep an eye on.
On the roof there are also three large diesel drums, each of which stores 250 liters that are only used in the event of a power outage, in order to continue to guarantee supply so that the Internet continues to function even if there is a power failure that lasts for several hours.
How to manage growth
Despite all this network of cables, power and electrical requirements, the general director of the company in charge of managing these CDP ensures that the biggest challenge is not technical, but growth. “The sector is in full growth in Spain”, he assures.
In fact, in recent months almost all the large companies (such as Google, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle) have announced the opening of their cloud zones in Madrid, joining AWS, the first to decide to invest in Spain (in this case, in Aragon) to have their own CPD in the peninsula.
“We have to plan very well what our growth is going to be, to what capacity we are going to reach, with greater energy efficiency, in which places we are going to buy land to build a new data center and if these lands have enough electrical power …”, he details Assink.
A Moore Law in CPDs
To get an idea of this growth, we can draw up a timeline and the capacity of Interxion’s CPDs in Spain.
The first DPC was opened in 2000 with 5 MW of power. Just 12 years later, the second was inaugurated, with 10 MW of electrical capacity, when the first reached the top of its capacity. Meanwhile, the third DPC, with 15 MW of power, opened its doors 6 years after the second. Since its opening in 2019, it is also reaching its maximum, just when MAD4 plans to open its doors next year, with 30 MW of electrical capacity.
MAD4 will be five times bigger than MAD3, and more than double the top three combined. Before it is operational, Interxion already has part of its capacity contracted. “We do not have an exact forecast of when it will fill up, but surely it will be sooner than we think,” Assink assures.
Already thinking of a fifth CPD? “I still don’t know when it would open, but we would seek geographical proximity to where we are now,” he says. Because, in his experience, the cable that connects all these CPDs with each other is also key for the optimal functioning of these facilities on which a good part of the Internet business resides.