All About Data Centers

By Deane Barker on June 21, 2009

The Architecture Issue – Data Center Overload: Article about the massive data centers that we all use and know exist, but never see.  They’re around, and they’re flippin’ huge it turns out.

The Tukwila data center happens to be one of the global homes of Microsoft’s Xbox Live: within those humming machines exists my imagined city of ether. Like most data centers, Tukwila comprises a sprawling array of servers, load balancers, routers, fire walls, tape-backup libraries and database machines, all resting on a raised floor of removable white tiles, beneath which run neatly arrayed bundles of power cabling. To help keep servers cool, Tukwila, like most data centers, has a system of what are known as hot and cold aisles: cold air that seeps from perforated tiles in front is sucked through the servers by fans, expelled into the space between the backs of the racks and then ventilated from above. The collective din suggests what it must be like to stick your head in a Dyson Airblade hand dryer.

One really interesting note: machines today are so power-hungry, that in 3-5 years, you’ll spend as much on electricity to power the server as you did to buy it.  That’s why data centers are moving to places where electricity costs are as low as possible.

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  1. I’ve spent a few nights in smaller data centers doing server maintenance which couldn’t be done remotely. Between the noise, the cold (not so bad if you’re there for an hour; worse if you’re there for eight hours) and the nagging worry that the fire suppression system was CO2 and I’d die if it went off and I couldn’t find the way back out in time, it wasn’t my favorite part of those jobs.

  2. The future electricity costs will consist of the power consumed by the server (and the inefficiencies of the UPS and power distribution) and the power needed by the air conditioning systems required to cool them. The article mentions air flow analysis via computation fluid dynamics. Improper cooling due to poor airflow cannot be stated too often. I have experienced many data centers improperly designed from an airflow perspective (for a variety of “reasons.”) Until the data center planners can solve airflow issues, the data center’s electricity costs will increase at a higher rate (i.e. exponentially not linearly) than the servers’ power consumption costs.

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