Sunday, January 3, 2010

Data Center Solutions

Dell Sees Double With Data Center in a Container

Dell Data Center
Ty Schmitt, principal thermal and mechanical architect for Dell’s Data Center Solutions group, outside of Dell’s double-stacked data center in Round Rock, Tex. (Credit: Erich Schlegel for The New York Times)

The old Dell tended to let the other guys spend their time and money building big new markets. Then Dell would jump in with its vaunted low-cost model and begin taking market share.

The new Dell is proving to be edgier. In some cases, it’s willing to go after fresh product areas before there’s a market at all, and it’s prepared to chase sales in the dozens rather than thousands of units, if it means keeping demanding customers happy.

Dell Data Center
Albert Esser, vice president of data center infrastructure at Dell, pulls out a server inside of Dell’s new data center that comes in two shipping containers. (Credit: Erich Schlegel for The New York Times)

As a case in point, Dell has entered the fledgling market for data centers packaged inside shipping containers with a unique, double-decker design that is code-named Humidor. The company showed off its data-center-in-a-box for the first time during my visit last week to its headquarters in Round Rock, Tex.

Sun Microsystems and Rackable Systems were the first large hardware makers to embrace the idea of taking all of the servers, storage systems, networking gear and cooling and power units that make up a data center and packing them into a shipping container. Their rivals largely ridiculed the idea a couple of years ago but have all come out with similar products since then.

These types of systems could appeal to companies that have lost their will to build big new data centers. Rather than paying for a massive, expensive building, a company can order a data-center-in-a-container and plant it in the parking lot. Just add power, water and a network connection, and off you go.

Along similar lines, organizations like the military that need lots of horsepower quickly and in unusual places might adopt the container approach.

To date, however, the containers have been slow sellers. Sun has mentioned a couple of customers, while Rackable has struggled to move the systems, shipping none last quarter.

So why would a company like Dell, which prides itself on using volume to lower costs, get into the container game?

That’s easy: Microsoft.

Microsoft has been the main advocate of containers, saying they will form the basis of its future data center designs. Some of Dell’s first containers will go to a new Microsoft data center near Chicago, according to Forrest Norrod, the vice president in charge of Dell’s Data Center Solutions business.

And Microsoft’s interest in the container idea should inspire others to take a look at the technology.

“I think next year will be the year for this,” Mr. Norrod said.

Whereas competitors have put all of the requisite technology components into a single container, Dell has gone with the double-decker idea. One container is full of server, storage and networking systems, while another container handles power and cooling. By using this design, Dell claims it can stick with standard equipment across the board, saving customers money and making it easier to upgrade the units.

Each set of containers holds about 1,300 servers and consumes about as much power as the homes making up a suburban subdivision. The cost can easily top $500,000.

The container notion takes some getting used to for customers accustomed to housing their computing gear in a shimmering new facility. But those traditional data center concepts are starting to give way to practicality.

“The general perception of data centers as these pristine environments has been broken down,” said Drew Schulke, a product manager in Dell’s Data Center Solutions group. “These approaches are getting more credibility, especially with capital markets being where they are.”

The container work comes out of an unusual group at Dell that customizes server and storage systems for large customers.

The Data Center Solutions unit started in mid-2006 when Mr. Norrod presented Michael Dell, the company’s founder and chief executive, with a plan to create a kind of start-up within Dell.

The large server makers had failed to come up with systems that were compact, cheap and power-efficient enough to meet the needs of customers like Microsoft and Google. So Dell set to work tailoring products for customers who would purchase about 5,000 to 10,000 servers a quarter.

“Michael was a very active sponsor, to put it mildly, about going after this,” Mr. Norrod said.

According to Dell, the Data Center Solutions business would be the fifth-largest server maker in the world if its revenue was broken out, placing it behind Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Dell, Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu.

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Underground Secure Data Center Operations

Technology based companies are building new data centers in old mines, caves, and bunkers to host computer equipment below the Earth's surface.

Underground Secure Data Center Operations have a upward trend.

Operations launched in inactive gypsum mines, caves, old abandoned coal mines, abandoned solid limestone mines, positioned deep below the bedrock mines, abandoned hydrogen bomb nuclear bunkers, bunkers deep underground and secure from disasters, both natural and man-made.

The facility have advantages over traditional data centers, such as increased security, lower cost, scalability and ideal environmental conditions. There economic model works, despite the proliferation of data center providers, thanks largely to the natural qualities inherent in the Underground Data Centers.

With 10,000, to to over a 1,000,000 square feet available, there is lots of space to be subdivided to accommodate the growth needs of clients. In addition, the Underground Data Centers has an unlimited supply of naturally cool, 50-degree air, providing the ideal temperature and humidity for computer equipment with minimal HVAC cost.

They are the most secure data centers in the world and unparalleled in terms of square footage, scalability and environmental control.

Yet, while the physical and cost benefits of being underground make them attractive, they have to also invested heavily in high-speed connectivity and redundant power and fiber systems to ensure there operations are not just secure, but also state-of-the-art.

There initially focused on providing disaster recovery solutions, and backup co-location services.

Clients lease space for their own servers, while other provides secure facilities, power and bandwidth. They offers redundant power sources and multiple high-speed Internet connections through OC connected to SONET ring linked to outside connectivity providers through redundant fiber cables.

Underground Data Centers company augments there core services to include disaster recovery solutions, call centers, NOC, wireless connectivity and more.

Strategic partnering with international, and national information technology company, enable them to offer technology solutions ranging from system design and implementation to the sale of software and equipment.

The natural qualities of the Underground Data Centers allow them to offer the best of both worlds premier services and security at highly competitive rates.

Underground Data Centers were established starting in 1990's but really came into there own after September 11 attacks in 2001 when there founders realized the former mines, and bunker offered optimal conditions for a data center. The mines, and bunkers offered superior environmental conditions for electronic equipment, almost invulnerable security and they located near power grids.

Adam Couture, a Mass.-based analyst for Gartner Inc. said Underground Data Centers could find a niche serving businesses that want to reduce vulnerability to any future attacks. Some Underground Data Centers fact sheet said that the Underground Data Center would protect the data center from a cruise missile explosion or plane crash.

Every company after September 11 attacks in 2001 are all going back and re-evaluating their business-continuity plans, This doesn't say everybody's changing them, but everybody's going back and revisiting them in the wake of what happened and the Underground Data Center may be just that.

Comparison chart: Underground data centers

Five facilities compared
Name InfoBunker, LLC The Bunker Montgomery Westland Cavern Technologies Iron Mountain The Underground
Location Des Moines, Iowa* Dover, UK Montgomery, Tex. Lenexa, Kan. Butler County, Penn.*
In business since 2006 1999 2007 2007 Opened by National Storage in 1954. Acquired by Iron Mountain 1998.
Security /access control Biometric; keypad; pan, tilt and zoom cameras; door event and camera logging CCTV, dogs, guards, fence Gated, with access control card, biometrics and a 24x7 security guard Security guard, biometric scan, smart card access and motion detection alarms 24-hour armed guards, visitor escorts, magnetometer, x-ray scanner, closed-circuit television, badge access and other physical and electronic measures for securing the mine's perimeter and vaults
Distance underground (feet) 50 100 60 125 220
Ceiling height in data center space (feet) 16 12 to 50 10 16 to 18 15 (10 feet from raised floor to dropped ceiling)
Original use Military communications bunker Royal Air Force military bunker Private bunker designed to survive a nuclear attack. Complex built in 1982 by Louis Kung (Nephew of Madam Chang Kai Shek) as a residence and headquarters for his oil company, including a secret, 40,000 square foot nuclear fallout shelter. The office building uses bulletproof glass on the first floor and reception area and 3-inch concrete walls with fold-down steel gun ports to protect the bunker 60 feet below. Limestone mine originally developed by an asphalt company that used the materials in road pavement Limestone mine
Total data center space (square feet) 34,000 50,000 28,000 plus 90,000 of office space in a hardened, above-ground building. 40,000 60,000
Total space in facility 65,000 60,000 28,000 3 million 145 acres developed; 1,000 acres total
Data center clients include Insurance company, telephone company, teaching hospital, financial services, e-commerce, security
monitoring/surveillance, veterinary, county government
Banking, mission critical Web applications, online trading NASA/T-Systems, Aker Solutions, Continental Airlines, Houston Chronicle, Express Jet Healthcare, insurance, universities, technology, manufacturing, professional services Marriott International Inc., Iron Mountain, three U.S. government agencies
Number of hosted primary or backup data centers 2 50+ 13 26 5
Services offered Leased data center space, disaster recovery space, wholesale bandwidth Fully managed platforms, partly managed platforms, co-location Disaster recovery/business continuity, co-location and managed services Data center space leasing, design, construction and management Data center leasing, design, construction and maintenance services
Distance from nearest large city Des Moines, about 45 miles* Canterbury, 10 miles; London, 60 miles Houston, 40 miles Kansas City, 15 miles Pittsburgh, 55 miles
Location of cooling system, includng cooling towers Underground Underground Above and below ground. All cooling towers above ground in secure facility. Air cooled systems located underground. Cooling towers located outside
Chillers located above ground to take advantage of "free cooling." Pumps located underground.
Location of generators and fuel tanks Underground Above ground and below ground Two below ground, four above ground. All fuel tanks buried topside. Underground Underground
*Declined to cite exact location/disatance for security reasons.