Virtus Enfield site visit: North London’s Hidden Gem (and yet another wholesale provider offering retail)

Written by Tim Anker, Colo-X Published 2014-10-07 10:09:00

I recently had cause to go back and visit Virtus’s Enfield data centre for the first time since I was last there with a potential customer about a year ago. Things have progressed quite a bit since my previous visit so I thought an update on Colo-X would be worthwhile, especially in light of the fact that the second build out phase is now complete. The entire site of 30,000 sq ft net tech is now almost all fitted out and ready, with just one last fallow area available on the ground floor.

Virtus Enfield’s location

One of the surprising things of the geographic distribution of colocation facilities across London is the lack of facilities in the eastern half of the city! Away from London Docklands there is precious little in the eastern half of a line drawn through the middle of town, with Virtus Enfield lying around 10 miles to the north of the City and Pulsant’s new 80,000 sq ft campus 10 miles to the south in Croydon. Wholesale operator Infinity has pretty much the only site to the east in Romford. To the west however, we of course have the Park Royal area, featuring Telecity’s huge Powergate campus and Equinix LD3 just around the corner and further afield is Optimum Hayes. Then of course we have the ever growing list of sites on the Slough Trading Estate, various DRT sites in Woking, Chessington or Redhill, the new Datum site in Farnborough, the list goes on! So the main point being is Virtus Enfield is actually in a reasonably unique location.

Inner Outer London Map Septy 20131 300x165

Geographic Distribution of London Colocation Facility Locations, with Virtus Enfield in Blue.

Virtus Enfield’s positioning is a bit unusual for a colocation facility being adjacent to a large and very busy out of town shopping centre. Nearby neighbours include a massive Sainsburys, B&Q, Toysrus, McDonalds amongst several car dealerships. However, Virtus actually sit on their own private trading estate which is fully owned and managed by them (one of the benefits of the wholesale/real estate model) with only one other business on the estate. Thus although it’s a busy area, their patch is a reasonably quiet backwater. The estate is modern, having only been built in 2007 and was acquired by Virtus in 2008. Furthermore Virtus Enfield in fact is on the opposite side of the road from a Virgin switch site that has been in operation for nearly 20 years, so the area does have some pedigree (and ideally located therefore for any Virgin resellers).

The Facility

Once through security Virtus Enfield really presents well. The facility is clearly well specified and well maintained. All areas throughout are spotless, from the plant rooms to the data halls and common areas and although of course this will have little impact on the technical resilience of the facility I think it shows the overall approach and professionalism of the operator. Even the exterior plant compound is well structured, tidy and organised, with pre-planned slots for extra chillers or generators all ready to go. Inside the green and black coloured plant rooms are used to emphasise the two power strings for both IT load and critical infrastructure. Quite simply, the quality of the fit-out shows and for a first site by a new operator you can see the investment has been made to create a facility to meet the most demanding of users.

In terms of the data halls, the Virtus Enfield now comprises 9 distinct suites, ranging in size from just under 400kW, or about 250sq m up to 1MW of which half are now occupied. The size of the halls very much reflect the original Virtus model, which was to focus on mid-tier wholesale deals, but like all other wholesale operators in the data centre market, the Virtus approach is now increasingly focussing on smaller scale colocation deals, as their recent “CoLo-on-Demand” product clearly demonstrates. The average power density is 1.5kW/ sq m and typical rack densities range from 3.5kW, 16Amps as standard up to 10kW in contained cold-aisle pods. The current customer base includes a growing list of managed service providers who will no doubt be attracted to Virtus Enfield by having access to such a high quality site available at half the cost per kW of Docklands based facilities 12 miles to the south. Names such as Serverspace, Coreix, Daisy and C4L are present.

Wholesale – the new force in retail colocation now leading the way on product innovation!

Colo-X has been writing consistently for the past two years about wholesale operators becoming increasingly hard to tell apart from retail colocation providers and the current approach from Virtus wholly reflects this trend. The recently announced “CoLo-on-Demand” product from Virtus amply demonstrates how far this trend is going – how interesting to see a wholesale operator pushing retail product development to a new level.

Remember, the “original” wholesale model from all the operators was to sell large amounts of space, eg 10,000 sq ft on a long term LEASE, for example of 10 or 15 years. To be fair Virtus had always tried to set themselves apart by focussing on what they called the “mid tier market”, ie private suites using shared infrastructure of around 5,000 sq ft. Today Virtus, like all the other wholesale operators will now offer a single rack footprint on a short term contract such as one or three years but their new “CoLo-on-Demand” product is taking this trend even further and marks a fundamental reassessment of the traditional contract based and fixed commitment model that has underpinned the data centre market for the past 15-20 years.

Virtus’s “CoLo-on-Demand” product in effect means that a start up cloud or app provider can take a cabinet and simply pay for power usage on demand, with nothing but a rolling monthly contract where power is paid for on a usage basis and the minimum commitment can also be scaled up and down each month as per the customer’s needs. In my mind this flexibility is absolutely perfect for service providers who historically have been tied into fixed contracts – thus meaning they usually end up paying for more capacity than they need. The flexibility from the new Virtus product means for the first time service providers can easily flex up and down, just like the products and services they themselves are offering– think of an app provider who may launch products that from time to time soar to the top of the download charts for only brief periods. I think this is great for end users and a truly seismic shift for a data centre industry that to date has been based upon long term customer contracts with built in annual escalators, eg RPI or RPI+ (and how long will RPI plus last)?

Another significant slug of yet more colocation capacity

It is also worth stressing the impact on the colocation market of this changing focus from the wholesale operators. Its significant as there is a huge quantity of very high quality space available from wholesale operators, because they design and build big sites. And whilst not all of this wholesale capacity will be repackaged as retail, it still represents a significant new source of retail colocation supply. For example in our 2013 research on the UK Colocation Market* we estimate there is some 1m sq ft of either actual or potential wholesale capacity in the M25 London Market (ie outside of central London), compared to some 700,000 sq ft of retail colocation. Of the retail colocation supply, about 400,000 sq ft is offered by two large premium colocation providers, Telecity and Equinix and the balance is coming from the ever growing list of new entrants, for example Pulsant, Datum or Everest. We continue to believe the UK and London colocation market remains well supplied.

Buyers choice: prices now range from £800 to £1600 per rack per month.

With a completely new tranche of supply coming onto the market from the wholesale sector the range of options for colocation buyers continues to increase. Another statistic from our 2013 research is that we are now tracking 75 colocation facilities across the UK now! From a commercial point of view a 16 or 20Amps rack (3.5/4kW) can cost as little as £800 or over £1600 per month (including power used), so it has never been more worthwhile to be aware of the options available in today’s market, something we at Colo-X are of course only to pleased to assist with and usually all it takes is a quick phone call or meeting to do so.

Virtus’s Enfield site is a great example of the ever increasing range of very high quality facilities now available in the UK market for retail colocation users which literally cost half the price of the specialist niche “ecosystem” facilities such as in London Docklands or Slough focussing on carrier interconnects or financial trading. If an end user does not need to connect to one of these ecosystems then, in complete contrast to the situation only a few years ago, there now credible and numerous options available to choose from.

*UK Colocation Market, Structural Changes and Trends, 2013, published by Colo-X.