Rags to Doug Riches

The VP of mission critical facilities brings a background in electricity and a passion for data centres to office experts Allied Properties REIT

When Doug Riches arrived in Toronto with his wife and three children, they all had to share a one-bedroom apartment with his brother and sister-in-law. Thankfully, Riches quickly found work as an electrician, and with a strong work ethic, turned that job into a high-powered career. Today, Riches is a leader at Allied Properties REIT as its vice president of mission critical facilities.

300 pound sterling to his name

Born in Northern England, Doug Riches was just an infant when his coal miner father died. At his all-boys school, Riches “learned to run fast to outrun bullies.” Later, Riches graduated from Northumbria Technical Institute with honours in Electrical Theory before moving around England doing electrical work. But as factories were closing, and with his brother having already moved to Canada, Riches saw better opportunities away from England. “I sold all our possessions-—except clothing and the tools that fit in a small wooden crate—and left England for a new life in Canada with a wife, three children under the age of eight, and 300 pound sterling—approximately $414—to our name.”

Two weeks, zero jobs

Then, the job Riches thought was waiting for him in Toronto had somehow fallen through. Still two weeks later, he was able to find work as an electrician for Bell Canada. Two years after that, he was promoted to manager, heading up the construction of the new Toronto Bell Canada Headquarters, Bell Trinity Square. “In its day, it was quite revolutionary, utilizing the most up-to-date systems and technology, which made it the most energy-efficient building in its class in Toronto,” Riches says.

Riches later managed Bell Canada’s key-facilities portfolio. In 2001, Riches moved to TrizecHahn to manage its data centre. Eight years later, Allied Properties REIT purchased the centre and Riches went along as part of the package. In 2013, he was promoted to vice president of mission critical facilities.

Three mission-critical facilities to maintain

Riches’s responsibilities include three mission-critical facilities, totalling 530,000 square feet. He is responsible for financial reporting, capital management, and the operating budget. Riches also is charged with overseesing the electrical and mechanical infrastructure and managing the telecom infrastructure. He has a staff of 13 and describes his management style as “MBWA,” or rather, “management by walking around.”

One fuel farm and 37 generators

Allied Properties REIT’s facility in Toronto is the de facto telecommunications hub and carrier hotel for Canada and the home of the Toronto Internet Exchange. It is one of eight carrier-neutral facilities in North America. This eight-story building produces an astounding 35 megawatts of generator power, enough to sustain a small town. The facility has 37 generators to sustain the load during possible power disruptions, whereas a typical 20-story office building has approximately three generators. To power all those generators, the facility has an on-site diesel-fuel farm, housing 144,000 gallons of fuel.

In 2001, Riches was involved with replacing the aging chiller plant with Enwave deep-lake cooling. “It was the first data-centre facility in Canada to utilize lake water for cooling,” he says. That same year, the first “Meet Me” room was built, which established an unprecedented gateway for telecommunications interconnectivity. The following year saw the expansion of the facility’s electrical infrastructure through the addition of 10,000 kilovolt-amps of transformation, to meet the rapidly growing needs of telecom service providers.

Revamping 170,000 square feet at the CBC

In 2012, Allied Properties REIT acquired 170,000 square feet of unused space comprised of television studios, workshops, paint shops, and offices at the neighbouring CBC National Broadcast Headquarters. “It was a huge challenge to demolish and build the infrastructure within the CBC building to accommodate Tier-3-standard data-centre customers because all work was performed around the clock—and the work site was physically adjacent to live studios for television and national news broadcasting. The work had to adhere to a strict design to mitigate noise and vibration.”

One passion

Data centres are Riches’ passion. “With the explosive growth of the telecommunications industry, data centres are the fastest growing consumer of energy. The challenge is to develop new ways to become more energy efficient while remaining mindful of the critical environment and customer expectations of zero downtime.”