Day: July 18, 2012

Hard Data: Inside the Data Centers of the Cloud

Hard Data:Inside The Data Centers of the Cloud

Data centers. The phrase often induces feelings of stress for small business owners. When they hear the phrase, all they can think of is exorbitant costs that would likely put them out of business if they were to build and maintain one themselves. But data centers do offer several benefits, and are of particular use when it comes to cloud computing. Today’s post will attempt to increase your understanding of cloud technology by describing in depth the physical infrastructure of the cloud’s data centers. We want to assure you that your IronOrbit private or hybrid cloud does not come out of thin air. Rather, state-of-the-art hardware painstakingly managed in enterprise-level facilities are what your clouds are made of.

Tour of a Basic Data Center

Server racks are the main features of any data center. These racks are 19-inch-wide frames or cabinets that hold servers in place. They are usually 42 racks units high (U=1.75 inches), or about 6 feet tall, allowing technicians of average height to access the entire rack. Server blades, stripped-down mounted servers, maximize space and efficiency. Behind the racks, cable trays organize the hundreds of connections running in and out of the server blades. In front of the racks (or wherever the devices expel their excess energy) is the hot aisle, an empty space that allows the heat from the servers to be circulated away from the server racks. Without the hot aisle, the data center hardware would be destroyed by overheating. Most data centers maintain a constant temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

An empty space also exists beneath a row of server racks in the form a raised platform, allowing hot air to escape through the grated floor. Cables can also be routed through this space in order to minimize clutter. Other common features of data centers include: air conditioning (sometimes using water towers and industrial-grade chillers), backup power (batteries, diesel generators), fire protection (smoke detectors, sprinklers, firewalls), and security (on-site guards, biometric palm-readers, cameras).

Recent Data Center Innovations

Data centers in the United States utilize 100 billion kilowatt-hours per year or about 2% of all national energy consumption. Efforts to reduce this figure include water-based coolant systems and the construction of data centers in naturally cool locales (such as Portland, OR and Ireland) where facilities could self-regulate their temperature without relying on air conditioning. Every green data center strives for a low PUE (power usage effectiveness, the ratio of energy used to power the facility compared to the energy used for computing purposes), with the average being 2.5. Instead of reducing consumption, data center owners such as Apple have attempted to shift their energy sources from “dirty” (coal, natural gas) to clean (solar, bio-gas). Apple’s North Carolina facility, for example, obtains 60% of its energy needs from an on-site 250-acre solar farm and bio-gas fuel cells.

Another trend in data center construction has been the use of containerized data centers, which are shipping containers filled with operable server racks. Individually, these containerized data centers are useful to large organizations that require immediate on-site IT resources (“IBM can put a five-container data centre loaded with IT gear on a C130 transport plane and get it to you in about three hours”) and to highly mobile organizations such as the U.S. military. But normal data centers also utilize containerized data centers in order to give themselves flexibility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness, as these videos of the data centers of Google and Microsoft demonstrate. Adding new IT resources now only requires them to purchase a new prefabricated data center in a container. They do not have to build any new facilities or platforms or purchase and integrate any separate equipment.

Our Data Centers

For more about our specific data centers, consult this post about the IronOrbit infrastructure. In brief, we managed our data centers in partnership with telecom and ISP giants such as AT&T, COX, Time Warner, SAVVIS, and Level 3. All of our facilities include redundant Internet connectivity, environmental protection systems, and multi-level security. We back our clouds not only with state-of the-art hardware and technologies, but also with dedicated 24x7x365 technical support and monitoring. Our clouds are as reliable, secure, and powerful as it gets.