Taking the Data Center to Sea


A interesting post from Michael Bullock talks about Google’s new patient approach to put data centers on ships. This was also covered in Time as one of the best inventions of 2008.

Like Michael, I think that this is somewhat problematic. We will have to see if this actually becomes a reality.

Briefly, I see the three primary concerns:

  • Physical Security – While we are not in a Disney movie, modern day Pirates are real. This maybe a lucrative proposition for criminals to steal data.
  • Environment – Storms and turbulent waters can cause significant issues I wonder how these will be addressed.
  • Latency – I have worked and spoken with companies that have a shipping component to their IT. Most all of them talk about challenges with network latency. This could be a deal breaker for Google.

Besides giving us insight into Google’s ambitious plans to go to sea, Michael provides a great started list of considerations that you should take into account when looking at datacenters in general:

  1. Power Density – What type of systems do you expect to house in the new facility?  If you’re expecting to support high density systems (like blade servers requiring 10kW per rack or more), how much room will you need? And if you’re planning to move into an area that only supports 150 W/SF, you will need to space out your racks accordingly  (for proper airflow), increasing the amount of raised floor space you thought you needed by a factor of 4.
    Power Availability – Is there sufficient power available in the grid to supply the site? If not, be prepared to foot the bill for power company infrastructure upgrades which may take 18-24 months to complete.
  2. Power Redundancy – Is the space serviced by a redundant substation with independent power feeds to your location (or maybe even multiple substations)?  You want that unless you’re prepared to deal with downtime.
  3. Power Backup – If you’re looking at an existing facility, you have to ask if it has backup power to cover the center’s full load. It’s also wise to find out if there’s a clear plan in place to increase capacity as you grow. If you’re looking at a new facility, you have to find out if there’s sufficient space for backup power generators and their fuel storage tanks.  And are there any zoning issues which may cause delays or add to your costs when you try to install these backup systems?
  4. Cooling – Is there sufficient cooling capacity to maintain a proper operating temperature in the facility even when it’s operating on backup power?  Is there sufficient floor to ceiling clearance to allow for adequate cool air supply and the removal of hot air exhaust?  Quick test: If you’re moving into a facility with 200 W / SQ ft. capacity, are there at least 36-inches of raised floor space to assure adequate airflow for system cooling?  If you’re planning on 400 W/SQ FT? Look for a floor raised 4 feet or more.  Lack of sufficient height is one of several reasons why conventional office space is suboptimal for anything more than 100W / SQ ft.
  5. Network Access – Ideally there should be multiple WAN providers capable of serving your facility, each with redundant fiber / network connections.  This will assure long term competition on price and an alternative if one provider’s price or service levels become an issue.
  6. Geographic Considerations – Are you planning on putting your data center someplace where earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis or floods occur from time to time?  I wouldn’t. Will planes flyover it making their approach to a nearby airport? I’d think about that. Will it be easy to deliver replacement parts and get professionals there for needed repairs or maintenance? Is the location safe from terrorism or desperate profiteers like Somali pirates?

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