Go inside the world’s meanest, greenest data centre

LAS VEGAS- As Cisco Systems Inc.‘s (NASDAQ: CSCO) annual customer conference Cisco Live wrapped up this week, the company flaunted one example of customer success through its partnership with the world’s “meanest, greenest data centre.”

Las Vegas hosts a 407,000 square foot SuperNAP data centre that uses much of Cisco’s technology to service companies worldwide, owned by Switch Communications Group. With its recently-announced expansion to the Vegas campus, Switch will bring the centre up to 2.2 million square feet, according to Jason Mendenhall, Switch’s executive vice-president.

Switch’s SuperNAP is a highly secure environment. The Switch employees who guard the facility, for example, are ex-military and gun-carrying. Of course, the data centre is not completely safe from every occurrence.

“I protect my data centre from a plane crash the same way you protect your house,” Mendenhall joked. But in terms of uptime and security-both virtual and physical-SuperNAP touts itself as the best.

Perhaps Switch’s most significant guarantee is of 100 per cent uptime. The SuperNAP has a tri-redundant system, or three separate power supplies for its servers. If power from the grid happens to be lost, the centre has about 50 diesel generators that kick in, generating 140 megawatts of power. The company also has contracts with more than 25 telecommunications providers to offer reliable bandwidth and connectivity for its customers.

However, the centre also has a high enough designation by the U.S. government to stay in operation in an emergency-in fact, it has priority for fuel over hospitals in the region. Only the Hoover Dam has higher designation in the area.

Switch also has a patented cooling system for its data centre, part of what the company argues makes it so “green.” Each external structure attached to the data centre has cooling technology and a system similar to a weather station that allows automatic adjustment to the outside temperature and circumstances like dust storms. Hot air is also ventilated separately with the company’s system, allowing for more efficient cooling, which in turn allows for more servers to be in the building.

Switch typically remains quiet about its customers but did mention they include some of the world’s largest financial institutions and government agencies.

Global Cash Access, Inc. (GCA) is one Las Vegas-based company that moved over to the SuperNAP to capitalize on Switch’s 100 per cent uptime guarantee. The company, which provides cash access for the worldwide gaming industry oversees more than 100 million transactions per year, according to Scott Betts, GCA’s president and CEO.

“About 60 to 70 per cent of the cash that’s wagered in casinos does not walk in the door,” said Betts said. In the casino industry, 10 minutes of downtime is far more critical than other industries, he argued.

A reliable data centre, then, was crucial for GCA. It had to stay compliant while addressing issues like future company growth and customers not wanting to pay for connectivity but wanting uptime, according to Jim King, the company’s vice-president of IT.

“We had to find a data centre that would allow that,” he said. “There’s a huge responsibility to deliver cash to our casino patrons,” King said. “My responsibility is to maintain a network that supports that. We are truly the lifeblood of those casinos.” The company teamed up with Nexus IS, a Cisco solution provider based in Valencia, Calif.

Nexus helped GCA implement a Vblock infrastructure solution, which includes technology from Cisco and VMware and storage technology from EMC Corp. GCA was also looking forward to the next 10 to 20 years, which made going with Cisco and Switch even more important, King said.

For his company, scalability had become an issue and Switch’s SuperNAP could address that, he said. GCA claims was able to save about $800,000 by using Switch’s SuperNAP data centre, when compared to adding up individual equipment from other competitors for a similar result.

 “What they don’t have is channel partners that can support you,” King said of Cisco’s competitors, but Nexus was able to provide the right fit. “They weren’t just there to sell us gear. They were there to help us design,” he said. Having channel partners as business consultants rather than simply resellers of technology was a message several Cisco executives delivered during this year’s Cisco Live.

 “It’s our people that make a difference with our customers,” said Dave Elsner, Nexus’ vice-president of sales and marketing. “I spend a lot of money on our sales force teaching them to be facilitators rather than sales people,” he added.

“We use everything that we sell,” he said. “Cisco typically brings it to us before the streets,” so Nexus employees have a strong background with the products they sell. “Today, we consider ourselves a system innovator, not systems integrator.”

This year’s Cisco Live event hosted 15,000 attendees in person and 40,000 virtually. The 2012 conference will be held in San Diego. 

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Harmeet Singh
Harmeet Singh
Harmeet reports on channel partner programs, new technologies and products and other issues relevant to Canada's channel community. She also contributes as a video journalist, providing content for the site's original streaming video. Harmeet is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism.

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