In 2006, what was then known as Opal Telecom, a subsidiary of Carphone Warehouse, began rolling out an all-new, IP-based network to deliver voice and data traffic to businesses and consumers. Now known as TalkTalk, the company claims to have the largest IP network in the UK, ahead of BT’s 21st Century Network.
TalkTalk says that the IP-only network allows it to deploy new resources to meet demand faster than competitors who have legacy networks to contend with. “An all-IP network means that we can scale more effectively,” explains Dave Mullender, head of network services at the company’s commercial arm, TalkTalk Business.
“Our network is more cost-effective because we’re not running legacy technologies all over the place,” he claims.
“This means that we can deliver new technologies quickly, and allows us to bring new services – either ours or our partners’ – to market faster.”
Of course, delivering these network services requires data centre infrastructure, and in the past data centre capacity was a bottleneck that threatened to constrain the company’s ability to meet customer demand. Data centres were being filled too quickly as it plugged new customers and partners into its IP network.
“We might have use of a data centre for a year or two years, and then the facility would fill up and we would have no choice but to move somewhere else. That move comes with an additional cost for both us and our customers.”
The company therefore sought something more scalable in its new data centre facilties. “We didn’t want a facility that we would fill up,” he says. “And we didn’t want a data centre which we build today and has exactly the same technology in it in ten or 20 years’ time.”
TalkTalk turned to Ark Continuity and its data centre campus in Spring Park, Wiltshire. The location allowed TalkTalk to run two independent fibre lines supporting four terabits of connectivity per second, thanks to the fact that it is next door to a Ministry of Defence facility and had ample availability of power. This also means it is unlikely to be hit by an aeroplane, as the MoD site is a no-fly zone.
The data centre itself is built from modules – boxes containing power and networking infrastructure that were shipped to Spring Park and joined together on site. This modularity, says Mullender, reduced the time TalkTalk needed to build its new data centre from two years to just six months.
It also means that TalkTalk will be able to deploy new data centre infrastructure technologies “as they come in”, without ripping out and replacing the entire installation.
He gives the example of adiabatic cooling, which is currently installed at the facility. Adiabatic cooling works by adding vaporised water to the air. The energy it takes to change the water from liquid to gas form is pulled from the air, lowering its temperature.
“Right now, adiabatic cooling is a superb way of efficiently cooling a facility, but maybe in three or five years’ time someone else will come up with a better idea. Modular design means that we’ll be able to use that technology as it arrives,” he says.
TalkTalk has so far built one data centre on Ark’s Spring Park campus, but is in the process of building two more. The plan is to connect each fibre-optic pipe to data centres at either side of the campus, maximising the resilience of the facility.
When all three data centres are in place, Mullender says he’s confident that the facility will be able to handle whatever scalability its customers need.