fmME Site visit: Gulf Data Hub, Dubai

fmME examines how Gulf Data Hub, Atos, and Cofely Besix Facility Management have integrated their processes since 2014 to serve the UAE’s first purpose-built data centre

Centred on trust: Data centre operations rely on integrated business relationships, the GDH team says.
Centred on trust: Data centre operations rely on integrated business relationships, the GDH team says.

Thanks to a rigorous security procedure, the journey from the parking lot of Gulf Data Hub’s (GDH) Dubai facility to its main foyer takes slightly longer than you might expect – and for good reason too. After all, GDH is one of the few companies across the region that serves large government- and financial-sector clients with high-quality office space and equipment rooms, constant power and cooling supply, and telco connectivity to manage their data through its Dubai Silicon Oasis facility.

Cofely Besix Facility Management (CBFM) has been providing a range of FM services at the purpose-built data centre – the UAE’s first of its kind – since the last two years. Meanwhile, European information technology (IT) giant Atos manages the facility’s service functions. GDH, Atos, and CBFM each contribute to the overall FM programme underway at the facility in Dubai Silicon Oasis.

In conversation with fmME, Benjamin Anthony, managing director of GDH, breaks down the relationship between the three organisations, further outlining how their roles and responsibilities are distributed: “The data centre was developed to state-of-the-art standards, so we wanted the best and the right operational team to run the facility.

“[Arranging an] in-house team wasn’t our first choice, so we went to the market and got the best team that is known to manage such data centres around the world, and Atos was chosen. The Atos team is outsourced to run the data centre, and this ensures we meet the requirements of our customers.

“[The data centre industry] operates on a basis of trust, and customers must be comfortable with the facility and the team, which Atos [ensures].”

Ali Khashashneh, data centre manager at Atos, continues: “GDH is Atos’s client, and we’re the operation management guys. Along with the client and after going through a round of negotiations with our suppliers, we finalised that our best choice for FM – both commercially and technically – would be CBFM.

“This has ensured we apply internationally standardised operation and maintenance (O&M) processes and procedures across the data centre. CBFM, being a joint venture between Cofely Services and Besix Group, comes with a certain quality assurance.

“Since our operations as Atos span the globe, we also checked with the international business and received good feedback about the company.”

CBFM provides hard and soft services at the data centre, including preventive (PPM) and corrective maintenance works for the facility’s systems.

Khashashneh says the CBFM team also participates in rectifying “any incidents that might occur at the data centre where it can provide tools and operations management”. Additional services provided by CBFM include supporting clients with spare parts and coordination efforts.

The key performance indicator-based (KPI) contract under which CBFM is active on site has been in effect since the day of GDH’s operational commencement in 2014. The deal was initially inked for a year-long period, and was later extended for another year.

A PPM schedule was prepared for all systems at the beginning of the contract’s implementation, with CBFM collecting asset lists from across the data centre. This information has been digitally collated based on recommendations by the data centre’s operators as well as product manufacturers.

PPM schedules commence on the first day of the contract, and span daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and half-yearly timelines. CBFM uses a platform powered by FSI for the operation, which also allows for work orders to be processed.

“Therefore, whenever there’s a maintenance plan requirement, it comes through the proper communication channel between Atos and CBFM,” Khashashneh explains.

“We then give CBFM the go-ahead, following which they implement the job. We sign the completion forms and the CBFM team closes the job – all on the digital platform,” he adds.

Corrective maintenance works implemented at the facility are divided across three categories: minor, major, and critical. KPIs state that – as far as possible – a five-minute response time is observed for corrective operations, with a workaround solution to be offered in an hour and spare parts notification issuance within two days – preferably 24 hours.

Khashashneh says the response time also depends on factors such as fault type and spare part availability with suppliers.

Atos officials are “the first line of intervention” in terms of any IT infrastructure-related concerns, with CBFM being next in the hierarchy to be informed of any issue.

However, Khashashneh explains, both teams work together on rectifying such incidents – especially for major- and critical-level faults. PPM schedules are managed with minimal involvement from Atos, but all corrective maintenance is jointly worked on by CBFM and Atos teams.

Khashashneh adds: “The arrangement not only depends on trust, but also professionalism, experience, and an understanding of the situation. For example, technicians might sometimes panic during incidents; to prevent this from impacting operations, we’ve created and implemented standard operating procedures (SOPs) and some false scenarios for critical and major systems.

“In addition, we’ve arranged SOPs that the technicians can use to start troubleshooting with.

“This greatly helps mitigating the impact [of any fault] on our system and we’ve found it to be a successful procedure to keep the data centre’s availability at full capacity,” Atos’s Khashashneh continues.

GDH’s data centre in Dubai holds a Tier III design certification by Uptime Institute, an advisory organisation focused on improving the performance, efficiency, and reliability of business-critical infrastructure.

According to a publication produced by Uptime Institute on its website, an ideal “Tier III data centre requires no shutdowns for equipment replacement and maintenance”.

It continues: “A redundant delivery path for power and cooling is added to the redundant critical components of Tier II [systems], so that each and every component needed to support the IT processing environment can be shut down and maintained without impact on the IT operation.”

Within that context, the scope of CBFM’s service delivery assumes even greater importance – a point not lost on the team managing the data centre – and the company’s approach to team selection has been adapted to suit GDH’s outsourcing requirements.

As Anthony explains, new facilities are typically “accompanied by a learning cycle” and for one as high-security as GDH, sourcing external and experienced talent emerged as the more viable option.

He adds: “We didn’t have the comfort level to start hiring people and training them. At the same time, we had customers coming on board, most of which were expecting a full operation from the outset. That was the first reason that drove our decision to outsource. Secondly, Atos runs big data centres globally in the US and Europe.

“The company has around 6,000 data centres [in its portfolio], so that offered us a comfort level in terms of a global organisation supporting the local team. This applies [to our outsourcing process] for CBFM as well.”

Speaking to fmME, Romano Fionda, business development and regional marketing manager at CBFM, asserts that the successful delivery of such a high-profile operation begins with the acknowledgment of its specialised and esoteric nature.

Fionda says that implementing a project of GDH’s scale also demands that the client is supported by the right FM team, making it crucial that CBFM understands the intricacies of the ground operation: “From day one, we knew from our previous data centre experience what the expected SOPs might be.

“All other data centres we’re involved with are high-profile too and from our experience, we were able to talk to people and deploy a team from Europe that has a data centre management background. It’d be wrong for us to put a facility manager without relevant experience on a high-profile and high-security development like GDH,” he adds.

This level of experience bodes well for the team managing GDH, which was built to LEED standards. Khashashneh says Atos and CBFM have collaborated to devise and implement energy efficiency programmes for the facility as is best possible to implement within a data centre environment.

These plans are currently focused on reducing the consumption bills being paid by GDH and with additional client investment in the future, Khashashneh points out, further measures to cut costs and energy consumption could be devised.

The future could also see a sizeable physical and portfolio expansion at GDH, and Anthony says up to 3,000sqm of additional space could be offered to clients as the regional market for data centre grows – a scenario that is entirely likely as the UAE and Saudi Arabia emerge as regional hotspots for data centres.

Meanwhile, CBFM’s Fionda is optimistic that GDH’s growth will offer the service provider an opportunity to deploy its data centre competencies in the Middle East: “Such contracts are a lot more critical than a standard FM contract might be.

“In that sense, GDH is very important to us because it’s the first data centre in the Middle East, so we’re eager to do more work with them.”

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