The history and growth of Russian datacentres is an interesting and complex one. Sergey Shurshalin discusses the Russian datacentre market, focusing on its rich history and on its prospective future.

The world's first data processing centres, or data centres for short, were built in the 1960s. They were constructed around mainframe machines, most often IBM 360s.

Some years later, the Soviet Union began cloning them, shutting down the development of Russia's own computers such as BESM-6, Mir, Elbrus and others, even though they were in some ways more advanced than their American counterparts. As a result, Russia entered the data centre's first age armed with IBM rip-offs named ES EVMs.

The first Russian modern-day data centres were built, appropriately, in 2000. Their owners were mainly banks, oil industry, and governmental bodies. As early as 1999, the Moscow Internal Revenue Service opened a prototype data centre specifically for the processing of tax forms from Moscow and the surrounding region. One of the first commercial data centres was built by British carrier Cable&Wireless in 2000 in Moscow.

However, there was no great demand for data centre services in Russia at that time, and the data centre remained idle for around three years, forcing the operator to sell some parts to the Dutch holding IONIP b.v.

The situation changed dramatically in 2003, when demand came from both hosting providers, with rapidly growing businesses, and corporate customers in need of ISO-compliant IT infrastructure, for instance, as part of their preparation towards IPOs.

Currently the data centre industry consists of both traditional telecom operators and providers who consider telecom services not their main business but rather some extra activity. Data centre service providers are widely expected to offer content delivery, telematics, leased circuits and data relay services, all of which require licensing in Russia.

The analysis of the current market situation reveals a very irregular distribution of data centres across Russia. According to some estimates, 78 per cent of all existing data centres are located in Moscow, 12 per cent in St. Petersburg and no more than 10 per cent in other Russian regions.

Although the size and quality of Russian data centres are almost uniformly inferior to their Western counterparts, most major Moscow data centre providers claim their facilities as Tier III compliant and let customers utilise not less than 5 kW per rack.

One of the largest players in this field is Stack Group. Since 2004, it has been deploying a network of commercial data centres named Stack Data Network (SDN). The company claims to use the international best practices of data centre building and operation, custom-tailored for data centres of different scales, and failsafe tiers. It has managed to become an important provider of failsafe data centre infrastructure outsourcing.

The total projected capacity of SDN’s functioning nodes is 800 cabinets, with a total floor area of more than 4000 sq.m. At the end of May 2008, with the first stage of the third unit of their main Stack M1 data centre going online, the total area of data centres in this network increased by another 1500 sq.m.

In 2007, the Russian Integrated Services Group (ISG) launched a data centre network deployment program. These data centres are operated by the specially established entity Safe Data LLC, an ISG's affiliate company. The data centres are linked into a ring of national carrier circuits and ISG's own bandwidth.

The first Moscow data centre went live in autumn of 2007, with a rack space of 500 sq.m., capable to allocate up to 230 cabinets. ISG has also begun the building of what is to become Europe's largest data centre in Dubna with total area of 20,000 sq. m. and power supply of 25 MW.

It is to be deployed over 4.3 hectares of land using a modular approach, which is intended to allow into come into operation stage-by-stage: the four identical two-story building modules will go live one after another.

In September 2007, the national carrier Synterra announced a network data centre deployment programme. This project was named 40x40, since it would take place in 40 cities across all seven of Russia's Federal Districts.

A typical data centre will feature 500 to 1000 sq. m. floor space, sufficient to deploy 200 to 300 cabinets, with power supply of 1.5 to 2 MW and an uptime ratio of 99.985 per cent. The company was planning to bring up 16 floors by the end of 2008 and 24 more during 2009.

One of the first Russian data centre operators and hardware collocation providers was Widexs Svyaz LLC, which inherited the Russian assets of Cable&Wireless in 2003. Today, the company owns a total floor space of about 2000 sq. m., but only 1 MW of power is available for data centre modules.

All mains power lines are backed up by diesel generators capable of working for up to eight hours without refuelling, and up to 300 cabinets can be deployed in three modules. Lately the company has faced difficulties with additional power line connections and has all but stopped offering collocation services to new customers. Nevertheless, the data centre has an advanced telecommunication infrastructure with direct data circuits to Europe.

One of the key issues for data centre construction in Russia is the access to power plant lines. The state of power engineering systems in large cities is one of the biggest obstacles the data centre market faces.

Often the cost of a data centre construction project doubles due to an exorbitant price for supplying power to an individual building in question. For example, in Moscow the price for technical clearance to connect to the urban power grid is currently about 90,000 rubles (~ £1850) per kilowatt.

In the majority of cases, the normal approach is to use standard run-of-the-mill solutions for cooling and power supply systems.

Only a few companies pause to think about how much energy is consumed by air conditioning systems. Practically nobody really tries to optimise the cooling systems in order to reduce the power consumption and as a result be able to deploy more hardware and use more complex solutions.

In recent years, along with significant growth of the Russian IT market as a whole (20 per cent per year on the average over the last five years), data centre building soared as well. The perspectives were appreciated by Western investors who, starting from 2006, began to actively participate in data centre construction.

Serious activity was shown even by the heavyweights of the high-tech industry, well-established in Russia, such as HP, IBM, Sun, Dell, EMC. For instance, IBM, on its own or together with Russian integrators, completed several dozen infrastructural projects worth several million dollars during the last couple of years.

One of the better known IBM projects in Russia was the construction of a data centre for Interregional Distribution Grid Company of Siberia. Unfortunately, the financial crisis put an end to many of the projects in progress, making even more unlikely the launch of new ones.

However, it is too early to give estimates on the consequences of the crisis. Many experts agree that it is still far from over, and the final configuration of the IT industry, when the markets finally start to grow again, can only be guessed.