12 Jun 2020

Putting our customers first - our new portal

This month marks my first full year at Kao Data. I joined the company back in June 2019 as their Customer Implementation Manager and prior to this I spent 9 years working for one of the dominant European colocation providers, as part of a 16 year IT-industry experience which has enabled me to see the tremendous technical advancements across the data centre sector, firsthand.

My role at Kao Data is really varied day-to-day, working at the pre-sales stage around solution design and onboarding requirements for potential new customers, all the way through to final delivery and customer handover. The most rewarding part of the role is sitting down with each customer, understanding how they work, how they use their IT hardware and how they prefer to layout the network and high-density infrastructure they want to deploy. Then I can work with the client to create an effective, often bespoke technical solution, to a very high standard and manage this all the way through the build. Led by Paul, Gerard and Spencer - this is the Kao Data way and we take great pride in providing genuine customised architecture and solutions for our customers.

> It's been a real pleasure to work with our client - EMBL-EBI on the deployment of their compute on campus.

Part of the customer experience once they have been handed their finished space is arranging access to our campus for their employees and sub-contractors and I'm pleased this is a process I have managed to really improve during my time at the company.

The previous process which worked and met the requirements of the ISO standards we hold - but was admittedly a bit 'old school' - was a manual form filled out and emailed to arrange permanent and temporary access via security.

A huge upgrade on this has been our Customer Portal which was developed to transfer the manual form submission onto an online portal where customers get a unique login. Once logged-in, information around their space is viewed and displayed showing power drawn, temperature, humidity and other relevant operational information. Users can then raise access requests for a set period, with names, car registrations etc. Once the request is submitted it goes straight to security who are instantly made aware and can grant immediate access. This makes the whole process streamlined and very easy for all customers to use and edit, giving them complete flexibility and accessibility to create access requests whenever they require.

> Our portal login

In today’s IT world where a small issue can cause a lot of grief if it isn't tackled early, the functionality around the portal is really useful and essential for last minute requests if there is a hardware problem or failure across their infrastructure.

We did have an existing element of the portal already in place for customers to view their environments, which sits on a software layer called Ignition. The Ignition software is built on a very reputable system called SCADA and implemented by E-TEC who have been a successful partner to Kao Data and we continue to build on the relationship. Experience of the software and the requirements we set them built the basis for portal development and expansion. We also wanted to adopt the look of the existing form into the portal, so customers were familiar in using it.

One of the main considerations around the portal was security to ensure we comply with ISO 27001. We only currently allow users to connect into the portal from the UK, however in specific cases we can allow access to certain IP addresses for customers that need this. As with any accessible portal based on the internet, we operate a security layer similar to online banking helping protect the portal via secure encrypted webpage protocol - HTTPS using SSL.

One feature of the portal that customers are most happy about is the ease at which they can select a period (date/time) to run a capture of power (kW) readings, which get displayed in graphical format. If a customer wants to review their high performance compute usage and the power drawn from their infrastructure it's able to be viewed at the click-of-a-button. It's a simple piece of functionality but if you're operating megawatts of compute you want to be able to see what each rack is drawing to ensure efficiencies are kept to their maximum.

> Demo shot of the new portal functionality

Going forward we will be rolling out a number of upgrades such as updating the dashboard to allow customers to see how much power they are drawing on each individual power feed, rather than just per cabinet. As customers are supplied with dual power feeds for redundancy, customers can then see if they are overloading too much on one, and have enough spare capacity for failover. Our infrastructure is highly resilient and designed so all customers have redundant power fed to the rack level.

Delivery and a removal ticketing system is on the road map as well. In the same way customers create an access ticket, they will also be able to get a ticket reference for a delivery they are expecting at the data centre or a collection. It will be updated by security on the system when parcel arrives, and the customer will be able to see this on the portal. This will then be easy and effective as it will be updated shortly after security update the system and without any emails or calls a customer will see the status instantly.

With us having to adapt to COVID-19 measures we have seen some customers postpone work and visits to our campus. However, a number of our customers have actually seen an increase in demand and they have needed to take more rack footprint and power. We hold a certain amount of stock for our tap off boxes on site so when we need to react quickly, we can make a rack operational within 24 hours if required.

This is great for our customers who need to rapidly deploy kit at short notice and it shows how agile we can react to customer demand at Kao Data. Behind the scenes we work closely with our supply chain to make sure we have certain items on site and back order ahead of time to make sure replenishment of stock continually happens. Customer focus across everything we do is incredibly important at Kao Data and I am pleased to be central to this process as one of the key members of staff who interact with our clients regularly.

2020 has certainly been a year we will never forget. I'm proud to be part of a team that has come together, adapted to the issues at hand and is ensuring Kao Data is at the forefront of being a safe, reliable and resilient home for our clients' data.

Howard Spooner

Howard Spooner is Customer Implementation Manager at Kao Data and draws on a variety of experience within the industry. He’s been a central figure in award-winning customer deployments at our data centres.


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