Built to Show: RagingWire’s Visual Data Center

June 19, 2017
The facility tour is a a staple of the data center business. The RagingWire CA3 facility in Sacramento represents perhaps the ultimate example of a data center optimized around customer tours.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – At first, it looks like any other hallway. But as you step onto a glass-enclosed catwalk, your entire field of view is filled with Internet infrastructure. Glance in either direction and you suddenly have a birds-eye view of an entire data hall, gazing down upon cabinets, cages and IT equipment.

Walk a few more feet ahead, and you enter a round observatory with dueling portals of critical infrastructure – cooling on one side, power on the other. Just a short walk ahead is a door that opens on a view of the entire equipment yard, including emergency backup generators and cooling towers.

This corridor offers a window into the data center, visualizing all aspects of the facility without ever having to enter a secure area. It’s in the RagingWire CA3 facility in Sacramento, which represents perhaps the ultimate example of a data center optimized around customer tours.

The facility tour has always been a staple of the data center business. On one level, it’s a type of inner-sanctum experience for techies. Billions of people use the Internet every day, yet few will ever see where the Internet actually lives. It’s a world of extraordinary infrastructure, full of blinking lights and huge machinery.

On another level, the data center tour is a test. Potential customers bring a keen eye to the process, closely inspecting the facility to see if the service provider can be entrusted with their most valuable business assets – their uptime, their revenue and their reputation. Whether they can keep them online, around the clock, forever.

It is an experience that must balance the tension between two realities: The data center is a business, and it’s a secure environment. How do you show off the data center to groups of visitors, while ensuring the integrity of data center operations?

Designing With Tours in Mind

For RagingWire CEO Douglas Adams, a key part of the answer is design. RagingWire, a business unit of Japanese telco giant NTT, has long been known for its emphasis on uptime. As the company has expanded, it has been intentional in adding design flourishes that provide visual insight into data center operations. When the Sacramento-based company expanded to Ashburn, Virginia in 2012, it built its network meet-me-room with a glass wall, allowing visitors a full view to the blue-lit racks from an adjacent hallway. The glass extended below the raised floor, allowing a view of the under-floor plenum as well.

The Ashburn VA1 facility also featured a second-floor conference room with a glass wall that provided a view of one of the data halls, which RagingWire calls “vaults.” It was a design flourish that RagingWire would soon take to the next level.

The catwalk corridor in the RagingWire CA3 data center has glass walls, providing visitors with an overhead view of an entire data hall filled with racks and servers. (Photo: RagingWire)

When RagingWire prepared to build its third data center in its home base of Sacramento, Adams wanted to do something different. He asked his team to research data center designs from around the world.

This led to images of an unusual facility built near Stockholm by Swedish telecom company Bahnhof. Housed in a nuclear bunker deep under the Pionen White Mountains, the facility has become known as the James Bond Villain data center for its sci-fi design flourishes, including a glass-walled corridor and conference room overlooking the colocation floor.

Adams decided to design something similar, only extending the concept to provide a single, walkway that could provide large windows into all facets of the data center’s infrastructure. This became the observation corridor at CA3, which the RagingWire team calls the “cut-away data center” for its ability to provide a cross-section view of the facility’s workings.

A Great View, Plus Security

This approach isn’t just about the visuals. It allows RagingWire to provide a facility tour without ever having visitors enter the data hall or other secure customer space. For some time now data center designers have sought to segment facilities into zones to manage access for vendors, creating “equipment galleys” where technicians can service UPS systems, CRACs and air handlers without having to enter the customer server area.

A high-tech conference center inside a Switch SUPERNAP data center in Los Angeles. (Photo: Switch)

RagingWire isn’t the only service provider to focus on presenting a great data center tour. Switch has long been known for its tours of its SUPERNAP data center campus in Las Vegas, which features blue-lit data halls, color-coded power and cooling infrastructure, high-tech conference rooms, and visible branding.  Facebook has elaborate murals and artwork from local schools lining the corridors and offices of its data centers. Equinix is among the providers that have used windows in corridors to provide a glance at generators and power infrastructure.

But RagingWire is distinctive in the extent to which it has incorporated visitor access into the design of CA3.

Adams wondered if customers would have any concerns about the overhead walkway. Instead, one of the company’s large customers asked to be placed in a prime spot so that tours could appreciate the quality of its cabling and workmanship.

Here’s a look at the view as experienced by visitors on a data center tour:

The data hall as seen from the overhead catwalk corridor at the RagingWire CA3 data center in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo: Rich Miller)

The corridor leads to this round observatory, which provides windows into the cooling and electrical infrastructure, along with touchscreens that RagingWire executives can use to access facility info and monitoring. (Photo: Rich Miller)

The view of the cooling plant, which provides 10,000 tons of cooling capacity to support high-density deployments. Air handlers are configured with N+2 redundancy. (Photo: Rich Miller)

A balcony at the end of the corridor provides a view of the emergency backup generators and the cooling towers, which support both air-side and water-side economization. (Photo; Rich Miller)

RagingWire wanted to showcase the CA3 data center for prospects and industry watchers beyond Sacramento, so it created a virtual reality tour for prospects, which can be viewed through VR goggles at industry trade shows or on the RagingWire web site

“While VR tours for data centers are still in version 1.0, the potential benefits are compelling,” writes Jim Leach, Vice President of Marketing at RagingWire, in a Voices of the Industry column on the company’s VR initiative. “See what you want, when you want. The new VR tours are self-directed and immersive. That means every view of the space is defined digitally. It’s not just a static image or animation.

“Virtual reality will enhance the data center buying process by making on-site tours optional for some buyers and by making the data center experience available to a broader audience of decision makers and influencers,” said Leach.

About the Author

Rich Miller

I write about the places where the Internet lives, telling the story of data centers and the people who build them. I founded Data Center Knowledge, the data center industry's leading news site. Now I'm exploring the future of cloud computing at Data Center Frontier.

Getty Images, Courtesy of Schneider Electric

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