Back in February, local IT firm Business Connexion (BCX) announced that it had become the first company in Africa to achieve Tier IV certification from the Uptime Institute for two individual data centres.

So naturally we dropped the firm a line to see if we could have a look inside.

FM200 fire extinguishers, regularly tested and waiting to be used.
FM200 fire extinguishers, regularly tested and waiting to be used.

Tier IV certification is the top rank of independent classification a company can earn to prove its ability to keep servers running no matter what and is a proud badge of honour among holders. Only 437 datacentres worldwide have any kind of Tier certification, making any badge from Uptime one to celebrate. Of course, it’s a bit more complex than that: there are three different types of Tier IV award and many companies don’t apply for one at all because the certification process is too expensive to justify, but all the same BCX’s achievement is a significant one.

Its second T4 datacentre is only 500m away from its first one in Midrand and is described as a “dark site”, since only security officers work there full time. 500m is, uncoincidentally, also the exact distance data can travel over a fibre cable before signal latency comes into play. The second building, known as New Road Data Centre 2 (NDC2) is designed as a perfect mirror of its first site, NDC1. They’re a mirror image of each other and linked up in order that they can operate as a single network, while at the same time being independently redundant. It’s a set-up which may well be unique in the world – and certainly as far as Tier certifications go, is.

BCX is currently being acquired by Telkom, and its obvious why the telcom is interested in the company. As well as flashy datacentres, it’s also the market leader for IT services and hosted services in the country.

Business Connexion's Martin Goetz.
Business Connexion’s Martin Goetz.

Martin Goetz, BCX’s product manger for cloud infrastructure, says that BCX’s own servers inside the datacentres are made up of approximately 65% Wintel blades, 30% Linux and a couple of IBM mainframes. Curiously, the mainframes may be a tiny part of the physical space, but they account for nearly 40% of revenue.

BCX itself is much more than a datacentre company, and has one of the largest number of employees in the business. From cloud computing to payroll management, there’s a BCX business unit dedicated to it, and in its datacentre it sells managed space based on computing units. A single unit includes a 100GB internet bundle, openstack KVM, 12 physical cores, 48 virtual cores, 128GB RAM and 3.6TB of storage.

BCX data centre
Storage, at work.

Unusually, there’s no caged areas in NDC1 where customers can install their own gear and lock it up. It takes up too much space explains Goetz, so biometrically sealed server racks are preferred for customers who want to co-locate their own hardware inside BCX’s buildings.

Power management is arguably the most important part of any datacentre set-up.
Power management is arguably the most important part of any datacentre set-up.

There are some interesting quirks from being based in South Africa. In order to achieve T4 status a datacentre should, technically, have two independent suppliers for water and power. Since these don’t actually exist here, BCX was able to appease the Uptime Institute assessors by plugging into two different electricity grids in Midrand.

It's the almost indestructible nature of the mainframe that makes customers willing to pay for it.
It’s the almost indestructible nature of the mainframe that makes customers willing to pay for it. Due to commercial sensitivities, this was one of the few servers we could photograph.

According to Goetz, BCX logs around 200 000 intrusion attempts on its servers every month. While it’s confident in its own security to keep remote attackers out, however, the biggest problem always comes “from within” – or customers’ employees who have access to systems which gets compromised.

NDC1 and 2 have satellite links to Sella-Sat 2, AMOS5 and New Dawn.
NDC1 and 2 have satellite links to Hellas-Sat 2, AMOS5 and New Dawn.
500kVA power supplies are required for each floor of the datacentre. So BCX installed 870kVA backup generators, just to be sure. The longest they've been continually in use is four days.
500kVA power supplies are required for each floor of the datacentre. So BCX installed 870kVA backup generators, just to be sure. The longest they’ve been continually in use is four days.

This feature forms part of our Datacentres of South Africa series. Take a look inside the homes of Teraco and Vodacom here.

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.