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The data center design journey at MF Global India

Financial services player MF Global India had more than its fair share of implementation challenges when it came to its new data center.

A broker for exchange-traded futures and options, MF Global India (formerly known as Man Financial) is also an intermediary in international markets for other financial instruments. Due to the need to constantly innovate, MF Global decided to offer Direct Market Access (DMA) in 2008, so its clients can directly access financial markets and trade without delays. However, when the first business requirement was proposed in September 2008, its data center in Mahalaxmi, Mumbai, was not equipped to handle DMA.

Manoj Chandiramani
Manoj Chandiramani, SVP and Asia Pacific head of IT operations, MF Global

Apart from DMA's business requirements, Manoj Chandiramani, the senior vice president and Asia Pacific head of IT operations at MF Global, wanted to address more aspects than just the standard challenges of server density, power, cooling and high-density enclosures. "It had to be futuristic, with technology aligned to DMA's business needs. The data center should be able to expand without significant investments for the next seven to 10 years," Chandiramani says.

The new data center had to offer best-in-class services to MF Global's clients, as well as reduce operational and management costs. In addition, it had to be movable in case of a location shift, with eco-friendly design. MF Global India's IT team had six weeks for the entire cycle -- with challenges to boot.

Legacy shortcomings 

The entire data center had to be housed in a narrow room (with a total area of 473 square feet). Adding to the IT team's woes was the room's height of 8.5 feet, since 9 feet is the bare minimum for a data center. MF Global India's main office is housed in Modern Mills Compound, an erstwhile textile mill.

"There was no properly laid-out infrastructure from a building management system point of view. Load-bearing capacity was also a concern, since we had to compress our entire data center into a small area. Fiber connectivity had to be brought into the data center," Chandiramani says.

Launching the data center design process 

It took 15 days for MF Global's IT team to finish its business study, and the plan was submitted to top management in October 2008. After the go-ahead, data center work was started immediately.

The IT team decided to perform the data center's design and implementation in-house -- only a billing partner would be involved, since all discussions were directly with the vendors. "A separate team was set up within our IT department. Guys who used to work in the day shift used to chase vendors in the evening. We even had to take care of aspects like approaching the authorities to get equipment cleared from courier companies," Chandiramani says. He attributes the success to his IT team's dedicated efforts, as well as those of a person associated with a vendor .vendor's associate.

Overcoming obstacles 

Internet connectivity was addressed with redundant fiber links from three Internet service providers (ISPs). One of the ISPs is an international player that offers a premium Internet service.

Since future scalability was among the prime objectives, full-height equipment racks with 1,200 mm depth to support high-density enclosures were chosen. The height constraint was addressed by routing cables through open troughs above the racks. An in-row cooling solution (measuring half a rack's width) with cooling units placed between racks was chosen for focused cooling.

Going green in the data center

MF Global India decided to take the environment-friendly route through water-based cooling for the racks. Pipes are run below the racks (instead of the usual water-cooling methods where pipes are run above the racks). Since no cables run below the floor, risks due to leaks are minimal. A water-leak detection system uses zone-based detection to display leakage.

MF Global India uses hot-air containment methods to ensure that hot air from the racks does not mix with the cold air and reduce energy consumption. Hot air is contained on the rear using a door to create a "hot aisle" and "cold aisle" as displayed in the figure below: Figure: Hot-air containment method at MF Global India

Protection features in MF Global's data center design 

The new facility uses integration of its FM-200-based fire protection system, VESDA devices and rodent repellent systems for monitoring and safety. The data center also uses a unique mechanism called a remote-operated circuit breaker -- a combination of an Earth Leakage Circuit Breaker and a miniature circuit breaker -- to combat power supply risks due to earth leakages.

A dual-bus architecture powers servers, with two buses per rack. Two UPS units are fed by two different power sources, and a high-capacity UPS feeds all the racks over one bus. Smaller UPS units catering to two racks at a time act as the redundant feed. This is backed by a dedicated generator.

Physical security is implemented using access cards and surveillance cameras. Access card-based authentication is also present at the rack level (for MF Global clients hosting servers at the data center).

Prepared for all eventualities

Fully redundant enterprise-class gigabit switches provide internal connectivity. Triangular network architecture connects the exchanges with the ISPs. Redundancy is also provided at the cabling level.

On the disaster recovery front, MF Global India's second office (in Andheri, Mumbai) has an almost identical infrastructure, with automatic failover and redundant connectivity through a triangle network. Online data replication between sites ensures 15 minutes' worth of data is lost at the most. Since 25% of MF Global India's business units' personnel are based in Andheri, operations are taken over immediately. Automatic diverting of phone calls is also in place.

Go live 

MF Global India's new data center went live Dec.12, 2008, and hosts more than 100 servers. It serves MF Global's four Indian locations, Middle East office and clientele.

MF Global India has been able to provide better service levels for its clients, apart from operational and management cost savings. Going forward, Chandiramani and his team expect easy scaling up for seven to 10 years.

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