Opinion: Data centers are as retro as the downed MySpace's placeholder.
Last week among the casualties of the California heat wave was MySpace.com,
which conked out for about 12 hours. While there were certainly aspects of
the heat wave that were more severe (and, in some cases, deadly), the
downing of the most popular social networking site in the United States
should make technology managers go back and take a look at their budgets for
It seemed appropriate that the folks at MySpace put up an online version of
that 1980s video game favorite, Pac-Man, while the main site was down. The
measurement and control of electrical usage, heating and cooling in the
server room really havent advanced all that much since Toru Iwatani came up
with the idea of that yellow sliced hockey puck chasing those four ghosts
around the Pac-Man screen.
Few things spur corporate technology spending like lost sales. And in these
days of the digital enterprise, the loss of your site for a half day
translates into lost ad sales that will never be recovered. System backup,
data recovery and guaranteeing uptime are those boring infrastructure
meetings that always seem to get delayed or canceled.
Maybe it takes a
record heat wave to bring those discussions to the forefront, and maybe this
last round of nationwide heat waves will bring you back to the budgeting
table regarding your 2007 technology budget. Consider the following:
Google is building a massive and secret data center in The Dalles, Ore., and
Microsoft and Yahoo are doing the same about 130 miles north of The Dalles.
While those companies love to talk about their latest features and next
generation of products and services, they rarely talk about their data
centers. Yet, the data centers are the key to their future growth.
The Google data center under construction (as it appears from photographs)
will be two to three football fields in size and will include four big
cooling towers. The 30-acre site is at the intersection of cheap power,
cheap cooling and volumes of Internet access. While little is known about
the full size of Googles IT infrastructure, best estimates put the number
of custom-built, Linux systems at around a half million and growing. The
capital investment is in the billions of dollars.
Companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft dont invest billions unless
they believe they can get a return on their investment and that that
investment can provide a strategic advantage over their competitors. While
you dont have a few billion around to invest, outages such as the one at
MySpace and the heat wave that swept across the United States last week
should give you pause to take a look inside that server room upon which your
Do you know how much power your server room consumes? What is your plan if
the local utility announces it is going to have rolling blackouts? Can you
balance your server utilization to the amount of computing required, or,
like many servers, is your server running systems at 100 percent even if
your computing needs are at 10 percent? When was the last time you tested
your failover and backup systems? Does your 2007 technology plan include
investigating a virtualized infrastructure, so a blackout at one site does
not mean a blank screen for users trying to use your Web site? Have you
grilled your technology vendors on their plans to offer servers designed to
scale back according to usage? Have you really taken those vendors to task
and asked them to actually show you products instead of plans?
Disaster recovery plans often get put on a budgeting diet as corporate
executives look for the cheapest option while figuring that disasters are
going to happen to someone else, not their company. But a disaster doesnt
have to be on the scale of a Hurricane Katrina to knock down your companys
technology infrastructure. A heat wave can cripple your computing
capabilities as effectively as a major storm.
Let the embarrassment of MySpace and the investment philosophy of Google and
Yahoo be a lesson in making sure disaster recovery also means keeping the
system up as the temperature goes up. You want your customers to be buying
your products, not playing Pac-Man.
Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at
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Since 1996, Eric Lundquist has been Editor in Chief of eWEEK, which includes domestic, international and online editions. As eWEEK's EIC, Lundquist oversees a staff of nearly 40 editors, reporters and Labs analysts covering product, services and companies in the high-technology community. He is a frequent speaker at industry gatherings and user events and sits on numerous advisory boards. Eric writes the popular weekly column, 'Up Front,' and he is a confidant of eWEEK's Spencer F. Katt gossip columnist.