Data Center Apparatus


April 24, 2012  9:00 AM

Super Nerds to the rescue

Erin Watkins Erin Watkins Profile: Erin Watkins

Behind every U.S. soldier in modern warfare, there is an arsenal of technological support. Does that extend to not-so-real-but-wish-they-were superheroes? My suspicion is that Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is powered by a super-secret data center. I mean, it was originally built in the Arctic and later in space for ultimate free cooling! And Batman? We know alter ego Bruce Wayne is the billionaire head of a huge defense corporation, so it’s not a stretch to assume at least some of the Batcave’s processing power comes from Wayne Industries. The X-Men’s danger room is probably the most powerful hologram in existence, so you know there’s a data center behind that.

Super powered data centerPhoto by Mark Probst, licenced under Creative Commons 2.0.

Following this train of comic book logic, Oracle’s S.H.I.E.L.D. data center is not so farfetched. Though clearly a marketing gesture, the Avengers’ data center, packed with fancy hardware from Oracle, is impressive. S.H.I.E.L.D., the intelligence agency behind the Avengers, needed a new data center after its old one was conveniently destroyed, paving the way for a way to publicize Oracle’s gear and the new Avengers movie.

But it does make my nerd-brain wonder: what would really be required for superhero-scale data centers? I don’t think Superman’s current incarnation requires much computing power, though in days past he apparently did lots of scientific research, but the large-scale Justice League and Avengers organizations— we won’t even mention the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps — probably would. Would they build green and get LEED certified? Who’ll foot the bill? More importantly, if these superheroes are still trying to remain secret, where would they find IT staff to support those data centers? Where’s our Super IT Admin comic book to answer these questions, huh?

April 20, 2012  10:02 AM

If you want to make a green data center omelet…

Erin Watkins Erin Watkins Profile: Erin Watkins

…you’ll have to break a few eggs. The road to an environmentally friendly data center can be a bumpy one, which is not surprising when the path less traveled has innovative technologies and practices that haven’t been, ahem, road-tested.

Break a few eggsPhoto by Marcelo Braga, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Some, like the Emerson data center, have had trouble with data center management and asset availability in the face of strict, energy efficient power utilization guidelines. On the free cooling side, an incident at Facebook’s Prineville, Ore., shut down the data center when a control system program error brought condensation onto the servers and shorted out power supplies. Then there are the problems you might not see coming, like IBM’s Poughkeepsie Green Data Center, which discovered some capacity issues well into its existence. For every failure there is success, and both provide lessons for a more energy efficient data center.

Events like the Green Technologies Conference are tackling nagging problems — like overheating — for green data centers. There are other tips and tricks compiled by certification groups like the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Green Grid to help reduce carbon footprints without sacrificing cooling and energy efficiency. Heck, even some of the big boys like Google and Facebook have put their designs and best practices out there for everyone to see. Though there can be a price to pay for innovation, it’s good to know you don’t have to go it alone when going green.


April 5, 2012  7:30 AM

Futuristic data centers: Computing the origins of the universe

Erin Watkins Erin Watkins Profile: Erin Watkins

Remember CERN’s data conundrum? In a nutshell, they’ve got 15 petabytes to deal with and have run out of storage. As much of a problem as this is, apparently a new worldwide scientific enterprise called the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) is trying to one-up them in terms of data output. Well, 100-up them, to be accurate.

The new astronomical project is a radio telescope designed to see into the universe’s distant past to help answer questions about the Big Bang. To do this, it will pull in an exabyte – that’s 1 billion gigabytes – of data every day. As you can imagine, this presents a bit of a computing challenge.

Exploring the mysteries of the universe is no doubt going to take an epic data center project, and, as it turns out, a potentially new way of stacking chips in a server. According to its website, the SKA will require “100 petaflops per second processing power,” which is beyond current computing technology. Luckily, IBM and ASTRON, a Netherlands-based astronomy organization,  have created the DOME project to bring about this new world order of high performance research computing. In other words, they’re in the future!

SKA is still in its infancy and won’t be fully operational until 2024, but it sure will be interesting to watch as it grows.

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April 2, 2012  11:40 AM

Round ‘em up and move ‘em out

Erin Watkins Erin Watkins Profile: Erin Watkins

The Uptime Institute has started a fun way to encourage companies to cut down on wasted server resources. Known as the Server Roundup, the contest features lots of cowboy imagery, a silly video and a swanky belt buckle for the winners. This year’s winner, AOL, dumped 9,484 servers for a savings of more than $5 million in upkeep costs.

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The Uptime blog states, “Decommissioning a single 1U rack server can result in $500 per year in energy savings, an additional $500 in operating system licenses, and $1,500 in hardware maintenance costs.” When you remove several thousand servers, you can see how it all adds up.

Coming in second was NBC with 284 decommissioned servers.

The question of when to replace or add more servers is an important one every enterprise needs to address.

New technology is making it possible to do more with less, so maybe we’ll see a closer competition in next year’s roundup.


March 28, 2012  9:55 AM

Cloud computing? How about Earth computing?

Alex Barrett Alex Barrett Profile: Alex Barrett

Whenever I look up a see a beautiful sky with puffy clouds I think, “That’s where my iTunes are.”

I read this tweet from filmmaker Albert Brooks the other day, and it made me laugh, because, really, what could be further from the truth? Anyone that’s been where the iTunes really are — the data center — knows that there’s nothing puffy or ethereal about it. Data centers are grounded here on Earth, made of earth and the grimy, heavy, dirty stuff inside it.

In reality, that iTunes song is sitting in some data center in the Pacific Northwest, parsed into ones and zeroes, sitting on a spinning platter made of aluminum alloy and coated with ferro-magnetic material. Actually, make that a bunch of spinning disks. And several solid-state memory caches comprised of capacitors and transistors made from dust and sand, i.e., silicon.

The road between that data center and the iPod is long and paved with copper and glass (network cables), and it passes through countless relays (servers) made of steel, aluminum, silicon and petroleum, fueled by electricity created by burning coal buried deep under the Earth’s crust.

Eventually, that “cloud-based” iTunes song will make it to the iPod, but there’s nothing lofty or airy about its voyage (well, unless you count traveling over radio waves during a Wi-Fi sync). But like a dancer that floats through the air like a feather, data center managers are tasked with making everything look easy and light (i.e., “cloud-like”). The dancer’s graceful arabesque betrays no sign of the countless hours of practice, sore muscles and bruised and bandaged feet.

Likewise, that cloud-based iTunes song plays at the click of a button or tap of a screen but betrays nothing of the countless hours data center professionals spent stringing cable, racking servers, monitoring packets and optimizing HVAC systems.

They talk about the cloud, but we know better.


March 28, 2012  8:00 AM

We’re doing lots of science, but we can’t store the results

Erin Watkins Erin Watkins Profile: Erin Watkins

Last year’s flooding in Thailand was a terrible reminder of what nature can do. Besides affecting millions of lives, it destroyed businesses and factories and left the rest of the world with an unprecedented hard drive shortage. Though this is great news for Seagate, whose factories were unaffected, it’s not so great news for the rest of us since the shortages caused prices to skyrocket. Luckily, Forbes thinks that might turn around soon.

Wooden dome at CERNImage by Paul Downey. Creative Commons License 2.0.

It can’t happen soon enough for CERN, since the short supply of hard drives is currently limiting their ability to store work. If, like me, you think the Large Hadron Collider may change the way we view matter, then limiting scientific research is almost criminal. We, and hopefully CERN, can learn from its unfortunate dilemma.

Apparently, the 15 petabyte (PB) computing load is spread out over what they call the LHC Computing Grid, but it still isn’t enough storage. Capacity planning is an important part of data center design and the servers at CERN can handle its processing and network needs with flying colors. It’s storage they lack, and outsourcing to a third party might be a good option until the hard disk shortage is gone.

There are, of course, concerns with outsourcing, especially if you’re talking about cloud providers. But the fact is that if CERN’s current Computing Grid can’t handle the load they’ve got to find somewhere that can, whether that means outsourcing the storage or outsourcing something else to free up space in their own facilities.

After all, there’s science to be done! Do you think cloud storage is the answer? Outsourcing some of its data center load to a third party? Or are the logistics of such an undertaking not worth the trouble? Weigh in in the comments below.


March 26, 2012  9:03 AM

Google cools data center with waste water

Erin Watkins Erin Watkins Profile: Erin Watkins

When you flush the toilet at your home, you expect a certain chain of events to occur. Your plumbing takes it to the sewer, the sewer takes it to a water treatment plant and finally a magical filtering process makes the water safe for the environment. Right? Well Google has turned that on its head with the latest innovation in free cooling.

Taking its lead from Google Finland’s ingenuity, a Google facility in western Georgia is now diverting waste water to its own treatment facility and using that water to cool its data center. Wired Enterprise has a more in-depth look at how it was done.

not just for windowsills.Image by Andy Melton. Creative Commons License 2.0.

As we know, using the environment to cool your data center can help save money on costs, but Google says that’s not its main motivation. The benefits also include alleviating some strain on the local waste treatment facilities and ensuring enough drinkable water during times of drought.

Of course, Google isn’t the only company building creatively. Facebook’s Prineville, Ore. facility uses air from the surrounding area to cool its data center. Free cooling is all about creativity and putting good use to your data center’s natural surroundings. But this story about Google and wastewater brings up another good point: creatively cooled data centers might not just save money; they might actually help the environment!

How can you adapt free cooling in your data center? Location is important, but as this latest innovation proves, it’s not everything. It’s definitely something to ponder as energy costs rise and regulations get tighter.


March 21, 2012  9:01 AM

Hack the memeframe, er, mainframe

TomWalat Tom Walat Profile: TomWalat

 The shrinking number of workers who can program and administer a mainframe, sometimes referred to as the “red-haired stepchild of IT,” are members of an exclusive club with a language and sense of humor all their own.

 We’ve compiled a few of our favorite mainframe-related jokes and catchphrases from the Internet. Be forewarned that some are groaners, but if you’re a mainframer — or even if you’re not — you might just chuckle.

 Old mainframers never die. They just take a dump and re-ipl.

 Elvis and Jesus are editing their programs on TSO when the system crashes. Who lost his files?
Elvis, because Jesus saves.

 It might be a mainframe:

·         If you can fit a bed and mini fridge inside.

·         If the power supply is bigger than your car.

·         If the only “mouse” it has is the one living inside it.

·         If you need earth-moving equipment to relocate it.

 You might be a mainframer:

·         If the phrase “green card” doesn’t make you think of immigration.

·         If you think all computers belong on a raised floor.

·         If your definition of “bursting” has nothing to do with too much turkey on Thanksgiving.

 A systems programmer is at lunch with some data processing auditors. The waitress asks the sysprog what he wants to order. “Pork chops,” he says. “What about the vegetables?” she asks. The sysprog says, “Oh, they can order for themselves.”

 Now it’s your turn. Mainframers who want to ride the crest of the latest meme wave, send us your jokes and other, er, “sh*t mainframers say” by adding them via the comments button on this post.

 Send longer anecdotes or links to videos relating to mainframes and the folks who love them to SearchDataCenter.com site editor Tom Walat at twalat@techtarget.com so we can compile and share them with the masses.


February 23, 2012  4:16 PM

Is IBM stealing HP server market share?

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

HP reported its fiscal first quarter 2012 earnings last night, and the results weren’t pretty.

Overall revenue of $30 billion was down 7% from the previous year and overall profit declined 44% compared with the previous year. Hewlett Packard’s (HP) Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking (ESSN) revenues declined 10%.

“Industry standard servers revenue was down in a highly competitive environment that was compounded by the hard disk shortage,” said HP CEO Meg Whitman on the company’s earnings conference call. “Business critical system revenues also declined as we continued to address the Oracle Itanium situation.”

Adding insult to injury, IBM issued a note to press claiming it has taken substantial server business away from HP and Oracle / Sun Microsystems. IBM said it recorded nearly 2,400 competitive displacements in 2011 for its servers and storage systems. Almost 40% of the displacements came from HP and more than 25% came from Oracle/Sun, according to an IBM press release issued Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Dell also reported earnings this week. Like HP, Dell experienced a hard drive shortage during the fourth quarter of 2011, due to flooding in Thailand

The flooding “forced us to sell lower or less configured, lower-end systems and prevented us from accessing higher-margin, more highly configured systems,” CFO Brian T. Gladden told analysts on the earnings call.

Still, Dell reported that its server and networking revenues grew 6% year-over-year.


February 1, 2012  11:21 AM

Property of “disgraced ex-media tycoon” becomes data center

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

A property holdings company in the UK has an interesting hook to attract attention to its new £35 million ($56 million) data center — the property once belonged to a notorious celebrity.

PMB Holdings, a commercial real estate company founded by property developer Peter Beckwith, has demolished Maxwell House to make way for a new data center. Maxwell House was once the property of the late publishing executive and former Member of Parliament (MP) Robert Maxwell. Maxwell was the owner of an extensive publishing empire whose death in 1991 revealed wide-scale fraud.

Continued »


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