14 Oct 2020

Kao Data - High performance colocation for the UK's advanced computing community

While challenging, the last fews months have really seen some tremendous developments for Kao Data and highlighting our progress we've have had some fantastic media coverage. This has shared what Kao Data is all about and how we can really help to make a difference, especially to advanced compute clusters within the Cambridge to London UK Innovation Corridor.

Described as an “HPC powerhouse” by one leading business publication, Kao Data is indeed one of the few specialist data centres in the UK engineered to specifically cater for advanced supercomputing and high performance computing (HPC) deployments, as well as intensive, high-density forms of AI and machine learning which are often GPU-powered.

With businesses today becoming more and more reliant on technology and requiring systems with 100% uptime, 24/7/365 operations, there is an ever-increasing demand for more robust environments to house their IT systems, and to outsource to external data centres such as our state of the art Harlow-based campus. In particular, we are seeing research establishments and companies within the life sciences sector – those focused on big data analytics, AI and deep learning – turning to specialised data centres to support their extreme-scale computing requirements.

My colleague Spencer Lamb, our VP of Sales & Marketing, put it very nicely when he told Business Weekly newspaper: “Kao Data has more than the required infrastructure and capabilities to provide what organisations working with HPC need. And, while rival data centres are shaping their business around the hyperscale tenants, Kao Data is primarily focused on organisations that are buying the new, specialised, power-hungry tech which they are unable to facilitate or house within their own environment.

“There is now a burgeoning demand from the artificial intelligence world, and the fintech’s are also taking advantage of technology to do what they do better and faster, escalating a technology arms race between them. With the solutions we are providing, we can create exciting opportunities for the more established research organisations to enhance their own offerings - to produce even more research and make more use of Government or charitable funding.

“And we can be of equal benefit to the science, tech and AI startups born in and around Cambridge, which, historically, have been somewhat compromised regarding access to technology resources and facilities such as ours. We want to be part of their journey and success too.”

In a second article about HPC revolutionising the speed of life sciences research, Kao Data Director Adam Nethersole discussed the exponential growth of HPC within this specific sector since the start of the pandemic. Over the last nine months, there has been an unprecedented global effort to pool resources in a bid to halt the progress of Covid-19, and Ai is being heavily relied on in the search for new drugs with its ability to rapidly sample huge numbers of drug candidates on the target treatment.

The Covid-19 Data Portal (shown below) developed by EMBL-EBI addresses this need, creating a shared space where data about the new coronavirus can be stored, shared and analysed using tools developed by EMBL-EBI and the wider scientific community which is housed within Kao Data.

Discussing with HPC expert Adrian Wander, Adam said: “Staying static isn’t an option within a highly competitive sector where being first to market is everything - especially when we’re talking about life-saving treatments, medicines and vaccines. And so, across the life sciences sector, most universities, laboratories, and research institutes are looking to expand their access to high performance computing.

“Many of these organisations are pretty landlocked and with old architecture, and there isn’t available space that can be turned into a hyper-efficient data centre unless you’re in new, state-of-the-art facilities – which is why we’re seeing an increasing number of enquiries about moving computing infrastructure off-premise and into an advanced, industrial scale data centre like the one we operate at Kao Data.”

According to Adrian, there will be a democratisation of HPC over the next few years – and this will be central to supercomputing becoming a routine part of life sciences and pharmaceutical research.

He said: “When you look at the cost of hosted services, it might seem expensive on the face of it - but you need to weigh that up against the fact that you no longer need an in-house team of high voltage engineers and all that comes with them.

“And for the big drug companies and pharma’s using increasing amounts of HPC cycles for drug discovery, personalised health care has the potential to become a huge profit-making market.”

A third article about the advent of exascale also featured Kao Data prominently and for obvious reasons. Our hyperscale-inspired campus already features special Technology Suites supporting multi-megawatt, ultra high-density requirements for larger, industrial-scale HPC customers, and its £230m, ‘future-proof’, cutting edge design for HPC is now setting the standard for data centre design and innovation.

With exascale representing the next milestone in supercomputing achievements to enable and scale future innovation, our Interim CEO and COO, Paul Finch confirmed that Kao Data was more than ready to support this.

He said: “Top-tier computing power is key to all kinds of research in science, academia and AI, facilitating quicker and better simulations of everything from drug discovery, developing vaccines through to cancer research and treatments. And it is exascale which will provide this exponential increase in memory, storage, and compute power needed to perform these large-scale simulations and work with such complex data sets. In short, exascale will change the sorts of ‘problems’ that researchers will be able to work on, both in terms of size of accuracy of the solution.

“Underpinning this will be data centres that can provide the power, technical excellence and scalability to cater for advanced workloads. Here at Kao Data we’re ready for that challenge.”

In a fourth article, the focus turned to sustainability and green issues. Business Weekly asked how Cambridge – one of the UK’s Top 10 greenest cities – can continue to sustain such a commendation alongside being the UK’s Centre of Science, Technology and Innovation (and the increasing amounts of compute, storage and carbon emissions that go with that)? The headline said it all really: Clean, Green And Energy-Mean: Kao Data Is Sustainability Exemplar.

Paul Finch was joined in the discussions by EfficiencyIT MD, Nick Ewing, who works with IT businesses to reduce their carbon footprint simply by improving how efficiently they operate. His clients include the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, South Cambridge.

Paul told the paper that, given how data-dependant our society has become and how reliant our society is becoming on data-driven industry sectors, there is now an urgent requirement from the data centre industry as a whole to do what we can to become more sustainable.

Sustainability is at the very core of everything we do at Kao Data, and we are enormously proud to be spearheading the way with a renewable energy strategy that aims to reduce CO2 emissions by +80,000 tons a year; the equivalent of removing +30,000 fuel-guzzling vehicles from the road!

From our state-of-the-art infrastructure, BREEAM-rating ‘excellent’ architecture and exceptionally low PUE rating (1.2 even at partial loads) through to using 100% certified renewable energy, 100% free, non-refrigerant cooling (shown below) and incorporating charging points for electric vehicles on campus, we are setting the standards in future energy-efficient data centre design.

Paul said in the interview: “By being more energy-efficient ourselves, we bolster our customers’ sustainability credentials as well as reduce short-term capital expenditure and longer-term operational expenditure for the benefit of both of us.”

And Nick agreed: “Our view is that any organisation, irrespective of its size or industry, has a duty and a responsibility to do as much as they can to be as efficient as possible. Whether that’s an organisation like The Wellcome Sanger Institute with its 400-rack on-premise data centre or a huge 40MW colocation data campus like Kao Data, the goal should be to reduce energy consumption whilst maintaining reliability, and thereby reduce carbon emissions.

“The industry strives to operate with as low a PUE as possible - because that reduces carbon emissions and makes the operation of the data centre more economically efficient. According to the Uptime Institute, the average global PUE rating is about 1.59 and in Europe, this sits lower at 1.46. Anything less is of course extremely good and some organisations are achieving ratings of 1.22 and below.”

Really interesting and rapidly developing times at Kao Data and I'm delighted to be part of the team spearheading solutions for the UK's advanced computing community.

Faisal Akram

Faisal Akram is responsible for Business Development at Kao Data and works closely with the wider sales and marketing team in recruiting new logos into the data centre. He has a keen focus in the life science, Pharma and AI sectors and has been involved in over 75MW of IT-related projects across EMEA



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