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December 7 2009

Builders of Modern Fortresses

Le Devoir - Claude Turcotte

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(Translated by Kelvin Emtech from French to English)

Occupation: builder of fortresses. Contrary to what one might think, there's a future for the people who practice this profession, not to build fortresses of stone in the Vauban style, but rather mechanical and electrical infrastructure installed around computer networks to protect them at all times against electrical failure and overheating. That is the role of a small Montreal firm highly specialized in this field, Kelvin Emtech.

The economic crisis? Don’t know what you’re talking about' replied Michel Chartier, President of the company which he founded in 1994 with a colleague and friend, Eric Stephenne. In early 2009, Kelvin Emtech had 28 employees: they will have 43 by the end of the year, mostly engineers. Currently, the demand for work is so strong, that Mr. Chartier said he does not hire new graduates for the simple reason that he does not have time to train. He must find experienced or intermediate engineers that he may have to recruit from competitors.

“Within two to three years”, says Chartier, “the public and private sectors will invest three billion in infrastructure to protect their data centres, primarily in the markets of Quebec and Ontario.” Kelvin Emtech, whose revenue is approximately five million dollars, can obviously not respond to this market alone. Its strategy is to partner with companies such as CGI and Tecsult to have their share in this enormous market. CGI is a well established company in information technology and Tecsult is a consulting engineering firm.

In fact, Kelvin Emtech focuses on large customers such as Bell, Teleglobe, Videotron, Rogers, etc.. There is also SNC-Lavalin, who recently came to look at participating in a bid on a listening centre for the RCMP, which is a project that's worth about 500 million dollars, 250 million dollars for the infrastructure fortress. 'We are looking to build long-term relationships. Videotron has been with us for seven years, Bell for 15 years,” said the President. Since last May, an office was opened in Toronto, and this, was at the request of some customers, including Bell and CGI, who wanted to have the same quality of services in Ontario as they received in Quebec. Kelvin Emtech has since found new customers in toronto.

In our increasingly computerized world, data centers contain all the information vital to the functioning of businesses; whether they be banks, insurance companies, communications companies, call centers, etc. We know the huge impact that a breakdown in services can have, often causing considerable losses to both customers and businesses themselves. The fortress, which Emtech Kelvin specializes in, is therefore intended to ensure that such failures do not occur, that is to say, that there never be any power interruption, not even for a second. Of course, all businesses have generators to take over the electricity grid. However, this requires a period of 10 to 15 seconds before the generators come on. It is therefore more a cell system that operates from the first second of a breakdown. In the industry, this system is known by the acronym UPS (uninterruptible power supply).

Not a second to lose

 

A graduate in electrical engineering at Polytechnic in 1991, Mr. Chartier started his career as a fire inspector, which for two years led him frequently to testify in court. Then he became an internal consultant for Bell Canada, and began to be interested in critical power, but two years later, Bell was cutting staff and Mr. Chartier found himself self-employed with Bell as his first client. In 1994, with his friend Éric, he founded Emtech. In 2001, Serge Bergeron, who owned Kelvin and who was interested in air cooling and distribution, joined Emtech. Finally, Pierre Robillard, a fourth partner, was added to the first three, each having an equal shareholding in the company, whose goal is to pursue growth.

According to the business plan, this small business wants to make its place in the public sector and particularly in hospitals, a virtually virgin market for a company like Kelvin Emtech.  The company also began eyeing the market in Western Canada and North-America. "For growth, it will necessarily be done through acquisitions", said the President.

In light of current developments, Mr. Chartier foresees a return to the 1970s regarding the cooling equipment, that is to say, cooling systems on the model of car radiators. The new technology is 100kW cabinets; enough heat for five houses in the winter. "We know what's coming and try to be a little ahead of everyone by attending conferences in the United States," added the President, who gets regular offers to buy. But apparently this quartet of engineers is not for sale.

 

The fortress, which Emtech Kelvin specializes in, is therefore intended to ensure that such failures do not occur,that is to say, that there will never be any power interruption, not even for a second. Of course, all businesses have generators to take over the electricity grid. However, this requires a period of 10 to 15 seconds before the generators come on. It is therefore more of a cell system that operates from the first second of a breakdown. In the industry, this system is known by the acronym UPS (uninterruptible power supply).

This fortress is also used for air conditioning systems, absolutely essential, because computers give off so much heat. A 24 inches by 42 inches cabinet releases enough heat to heat a bungalow during the winter.  Stop the air for only ten seconds and your systems will overheat. Computing devices are becoming more powerful and condensed making the air flow and cooling even more important. An MIT study shows that in 1999, computer rooms were designed for a density of 50 watts of heat per square foot, whereas in 2009, in the same room, this density reached 400 watts per square foot. In the United States, the power consumption of data centers accounts for 4% of all electricity in the country, or 1.5% of total consumption.

In short, all these technical considerations are matters for Kelvin Emtech, who can handle the installation, management, maintenance, and can also act as a business advisor. We understand why CGI has become their largest customer and partner in improving the robustness and efficiency of its infrastructure in five sites in Quebec, not to mention Toronto and Ottawa soon, and possibly Phoenix, Arizona next year.

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