Engineering students at UTC Heathrow got the rare opportunity to tour an operational CyrusOne data centre, seeing for themselves the racks of servers used to store computer data (email, website, online transactions, etc) for some of the biggest companies in the world, along with the electrical and mechanical equipment needed to support such important infrastructure.
Shortly before school broke for the holidays, seven engineering students visited CyrusOne’s LON1 site based in Slough, where they met Jacob Dowsett, Regional Operations Director, and Steve Hayward, Vice President European Operations. Jacob was especially inspirational, telling the students about his unconventional path into his role: “What we are hoping to do is shed light on this industry and make the route for your generation more straight forward,” he said.
The purpose of the tour was to support the learning these students have been doing on the data services industry as part of their Engineering BTEC course through the Digital Futures Programme. This programme, unique to UTC Heathrow, is designed to open opportunities for students to explore an array of careers within the data services industry, as well as equipping them for other technical careers.
Although the programme has been running since 2021, this is the first time any of the students have visited a fully operational data centre. Having made sure that their clients were happy with the students being shown around, CyrusOne were delighted to offer the inaugural tour.
CyrusOne’s Jacob Dowsett explained how vital it is for students to be able to see the workings of the data centre in person. “It’s so important for the students to be able to visualise these data centres and see for themselves. Obviously, it’s data sensitive, really high security, but without these experiences – showing the students what’s actually inside the data centre and what engineering roles there are, they’re not going to want to join the industry. They need to see things up and running and see themselves doing it.”
On the day, students were shown a short presentation on what happened at the data centre (which the students were already pretty clued up on), before starting the ‘electrical tour’.
Much to the students’ delight, this involved the big switch on of a power generator. It was big and loud – the boys loved it naturally! They were shown how it worked by an engineer – but it wasn’t a passive watch. Like all good school trips, the students were armed with a clipboard containing questions they were required to answer. This meant they were actively engaged, listening to the engineers and most importantly learning.
The second part of the tour looked at the mechanical side – the cooling system. Data centre servers generate a lot of heat, so all require some kind of cooling mechanism, in this case an Adiabatic* cooling system.
Kitted out with boots, hi-vis and lanyards, the students got to really visualise how a data centre works. They spoke to some of the engineers, asking intelligent questions about how the equipment works and what engineers at CyrusOne do – and what the earning potential is.
Something that really gave the students food for thought was the company’s vision of a sustainable future and what they could do to be a part of that.
CyrusOne’s Hanna Chegrouche, Marketing Coordinator said: “I think the younger generation need to feel valued in industry and feel like they’re part of a bigger impact. So while we were talking about the now of being an engineer, we were also talking about the headwinds that we face and how engineers have a big part to play. We looked at our new facility, LON6, through a VR headset experience and I think they were surprised – it looks so different to what you perceive a data centre to look like, with the biodiverse surrounding areas and timber framed interior, you won’t even think that was a data centre city at all.”
For many of the students who were already considering a career in the sector after school, this tour made them even more determined! ALET Project Coordinator Candace Rose Kumi, who is based at UTC Heathrow said: “The advice given to students was fantastic, they left feeling inspired and wanting to know more about the industry. They gained a better understanding of electrical and mechanical equipment within a data centre as well as the future works.”
One of the students, Lucas, went on: “This was a great opportunity and has helped me to decide that I would love to start a career in the data centre industry. Everyone was very enthusiastic and informative, and I am very grateful to the CyrusOne team for this experience.”
Summing up, another of the visiting students, Yaseen, said: “I found the trip to be fascinating because of the orderliness of such a complex operation. Everything was so under control to the point where any issue they have is predictable and resolvable in seconds, if not minutes, and I found this to be an inspiration for how I should maximise efficiency in my day-to-day life. I was surprised to see how relaxed everyone was given that if the servers were to go down it would cost them thousands of pounds, but I think they are so organised that they never need to worry. They were very welcoming and willing to explain any questions we had and went out of their way to make it a great day for us.”
- Adiabatic cooling systems are used with evaporative coolers. These systems are made up of a large fan that draws warm air through water-moistened pads.
- UTC Heathrow is a specialist science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) school which teaches students aged 14 to 18.
- To find out more about the Digital Futures Programme please visit www.heathrow-utc.org/employers/digital-futures-programme
- CyrusOne is one the founding partners of the Digital Futures Programme. It has taken steps to engage with local UTCs (University Technical Colleges) as part of their efforts to promote positive interactions and recruit talented individuals. CyrusOne has participated in educational initiatives such as providing guest lectures, organising workshops and offering apprenticeships. This is essential to support the growth the industry is currently going through.
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