Ark Data Centres: Sustainable connectivity
Ark Data Centres specialise in the design, construction and operation of high integrity data centres which lead the market in sustainability, deliver optimum security, combined with the highest levels of availability. Ark’s objective is to industrialise the data centre market, eliminating the errors and costs associated with one-off custom-built solutions; favouring the inherent quality, improved performance and economies of a modular, manufactured solution.
The green agenda
Industry leaders like Amazon, Microsoft and Google are driving uptake in the data centre market and have made categorical statements about their sustainability goals and how they will be achieved. Ark Data Centres openly share similar values and is approaching business in a different way, says its CEO Huw Owen.
“There’s been too much greenwashing and not enough action,” he says. “We don't think that's good enough, because it's not addressing the actual problems in a meaningful way that affects real change. The data centre industry is hungry on power and water so we need to develop a fit for purpose green agenda.”
The last decade has seen a huge and exponential growth in the use of data highlights Owen. “We’re seeing growth in the hundreds of percent when it comes to the amount of storage and power we’re offering. And if you actually look at the growth in power usage, it isn't matching it. Evidently, some good things have been done to control that, but more needs to be done. And what's achieved that in large part is getting out of the old sweaty real estate data center sites into more modern and sustainable footprints.”
Ark’s goal is to create socially responsible data centres via a journey of continuous improvement towards sustainability objectives that benefit both its customers and the planet.
Ark has been sourcing green energy since 2015. All of its facilities are now powered by 100% renewable energy using purely natural sources. “Our customers benefit from the lowest renewable energy prices available in the UK market, while dramatically lowering their own carbon footprint,” reveals Owen.
It’s a fundamental approach that informs each stage of Ark’s design, build and operations cycle. All existing sites which have historically leveraged diesel generators are in the process of being transitioned to bio-diesel. For every new London facility Ark is committed to eliminating diesel by deploying back-up gas generators proven to run effectively on up to 30% hydrogen. “We support the UK’s ambition to incrementally increase the hydrogen mix in its utility gas network and we are pushing hard for the tests to be completed which will allow 100% usage,” adds Owen.
“Our campuses are ecologically level and feature green areas where wildlife can coexist. We have eco-toilets on our sites that save thousands of litres of water each year. We’ve also extended our typical rainwater harvesting process to capture water from the roof but also from the run-off of the car parks which can then be filtered and stored. It may involve a more intense filtration process but by re-using this water, we only use the mains to top up the rainwater supply as required, significantly reducing our usage.”
Water consumption is a key example where a data centre could either potentially add to the problem or employ some innovative thinking. That’s why the team at Ark has developed a water buffering and saving mode for its cooling equipment which reduces the utility water supply requirement from 33 litres to just 5 litres per second (reducing its original peak water usage by a staggering 85%).
Ark’s net zero approach is the adoption of an ethos, not just a box-ticking exercise. Its waste management strategy is to become a “zero waste to landfill business” by reducing the unnecessary use of raw materials. Simultaneously, Ark aims to encourage re-use of materials and products, and reduce waste to landfill through recycling, composting or energy recovery, leading to a lower environmental impact and positive carbon reductions.
Modular data centre design
“We’ve partnered with Bladeroom since 2011 developing our ‘data centre in a box’ concept,” explains Ark’s Director of Design, Construction & Operations, Andy Garvin. “Built off-site, delivered by lorry and then re-erected on site within 14 days of leaving the manufacturing facility it was our first approach towards a volumetric solution.”
Now focused on a flat pack solution that can be built off the cladding on site, the design has been developed through various iterations over the past decade to reduce waste and cost. “We’ve developed a really efficient approach with dedicated factory space for Bladeroom to ‘build-to-order’ for our clients. The standardisation they’ve been able to offer has been really important. We've worked closely with Bladeroom, particularly around the cooling technologies - we use indirect and direct air solutions. The majority of our data centers are direct air, which allows fresh air to come in. It's conditioned, filtered and then approaches the OT space and is either exhausted or recirculated, depending on the conditions within the room.”
Ark also works alongside Bladeroom with Gratte Brothers and JCA to develop improved energy centre solutions. “Gratte Brothers and JCA are our preferred mechanical and electrical engineering partners,” confirms Garvin. Ark were also keen to modularise this process, so together the partners came up with a unique solution which not only utilises the data center cooling to cool the energy center, but also allows Ark to build the energy center off site - improving health and safety while reducing material waste and cost.
“Though competitors in the market, Gratte Brothers and JCA are both family-run businesses that integrate well with Ark,” says Garvin. “They’re really adaptable and always looking to innovate. When we need to ensure speed to market, and in times of crisis like we’ve experienced during the pandemic, we rely on these partnerships to deliver safely to our customers.”
Partnering with the UK Government
The UK government utilises a disparate set of data centres of varying scales and efficiencies. Entering the fray when a tender was held in 2013, Ark subsequently won through to secure a deal to partner with the UK Cabinet Office in a joint venture to create Crown Hosting Data Centres to deliver increased efficiency, improved value, and transparency of data centre hosting utilisation across the entire UK Public Sector. Doing just that, Ark delivered £105 million in savings which contributed towards over £2 billion in savings for the UK government.
“There's a joint board which sits between the government and Ark,” explains Owen. “The framework – procurement, vetting, security and pricing – is pre-done. Instead of having to do procurement, if you take a pound of government money you can utilise that framework, save your management time, save your expense of procurement, and you can use our facilities. We’re highly flexible, you can take it for a month, you can take it for five years, take your reversion release at the end - a highly compelling offer. We've been through UK government benchmarking exercises and been found to be right up in the top quartile.”
In terms of sustainability goals, Owen estimates that Ark’s involvement has taken the equivalent of 140,000 cars off the road in carbon savings. The joint venture, accounting for around 45% of Ark’s business. has been extended to 2023 as the UK government seeks to further transform its data centre footprint.
Trusted by governments and multi-nationals alike to deliver flexible and reliable data centre solutions, each new project and partnership is more than just another business transaction for Ark. “A few years back we went through a branding exercise,” recalls Owen. “Our clients were asked to be brutally honest. Their feedback? ‘They’re capable’, ‘A breath of fresh air to do business with’ and most importantly of all, ‘They care’. So, we don’t court awards and adulation, we’re discreet and listen to our customers.”
“There’s a great quote from a famous speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in 1919:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
“I like to think that at Ark, we and our partners are that man striving to instigate the change that can create a Darwinian moment for the planet.”