LENEXA, KANSAS – Somewhere in an anonymous building located in a cluster of equally nondescript buildings on the Kansas prairie, 1&1 Internet has built a vast data center to serve the needs of small and midsized businesses.
Although 1&1 is probably best known as an Internet hosting provider, the company has expanded its offerings to include a variety of cloud services such as infrastructure as a service and software as a service.
The cloud services include cloud-based processing power, storage and bandwidth. The company also provides software applications in the cloud for its customers. Unlike its competitors, 1&1 protects its customers’ data through the use of dual-hosting geo-redundancy. This means that the approximately 40,000 servers in the Lenexa data center are mirrored by another data center in downtown Kansas City, which is about 18 miles away.
According to Ryan Cieslak, 1&1 product marketing manager, the separation is far enough to prevent the same disaster from hitting both data centers, while being close enough to keep latency to a minimum. Cieslak also noted that the Lenexa, Kansas, location was chosen because it was close to being equally distant from both coasts of the U.S. Recently eWEEK got an opportunity to tour this data center on a sponsored trip, meaning that 1&1 provided the travel, but had no input into the content of this article.
The first impression of 1&1’s Lenexa data center is one of a huge warehouse in an industrial park. In reality, that’s exactly what it is. But there’s more here than just a warehouse. Within the original warehouse structure is an entire second building built to withstand the disasters likely to befall a large building in Kansas. According to 1&1 data center head Thorsten Ziegler, a natural disaster could actually destroy the surrounding warehouse building, but leave the data center itself untouched.
Inside the data center are the roughly 40,000 IBM BladeCenter servers along with the required battery backup equipment and networking equipment to support the 210G bps fiber ring that connects the data center with its Kansas City backup. Behind the data center are four Caterpillar diesel generators, several days’ worth of fuel, water chillers and heat exchangers.
“We don’t use city water for cooling,” Ziegler said, “because there’s no redundancy. If we lost the water supply, we would have no way to cool the data center.” For this reason, 1&1 chose to use a slightly less efficient air-cooled chiller design to meet the requirements for reliability.
“It is key for 1&1 to have the ability to offer any of our customers the safety and protection of their data in our Lenexa facility, no matter what the package or product they have,” explained 1&1 CEO Oliver Mauss, responding by email to eWEEK. “Following through on its reassurance to users, 1&1 launched dual hosting.”
Dual hosting is a key part of 1&1’s reliability offering. It means that the company has two data centers, one working as a failover to the other. Both facilities are monitored in real time to make sure that the other is instantly available.
The existence of two data centers means that 1&1 can perform routine maintenance on one data center while the backup picks up the load for the portion of the center that’s undergoing maintenance. Likewise, each data center has redundant network equipment that uses multiple vendors so that those dreaded software updates that have knocked out other data centers recently won’t affect 1&1.
1and1 Data Center Design Reduces Energy, Cooling Resources
As you would expect, the Lenexa facility is powered by redundant grids, and the network link between Lenexa and Kansas City incorporates dual redundant fiber-optic rings. It’s important to note, however, that redundancy does not extend to the company’s facilities in Europe. The latency created by the distance between Lenexa and a European data center would be too great, and it could create legal problems with some types of data that cannot be stored outside the U.S. or Europe.
While 1&1 does have operations centers in the U.S. and Europe, and while each of those centers can manage the installations on either continent, the data never travels across international borders.
What does travel across borders is the European focus on green data centers, and because of this 1&1 purchases renewable energy for its facilities from a hydroelectric provider. The company already has a highly efficient data center, and it’s moving into even greater levels of efficiency by separating cooling air going into the servers from hot air from the servers’ exhaust. The company is already using enclosed racks, and is in the process of moving to a hot aisle/cold aisle heat-management plan for greater efficiency.
These energy savings translate into a reduced carbon footprint for the 1&1 data centers as well as lower energy costs.
Helping keep the level of efficiency up is a common server configuration that uses a quad-core Xeon server with 12GB of RAM. The data is stored on expandable external storage units with about 20TB each. The Blade Center servers communicate with the storage over a gigabit link, with additional links available to each during periods of heavy traffic. Nearly all the servers run a modified version of Debian Linux, although Windows 2008 servers are available for customers who need them. The server hardware is identical regardless of the operating system.
The servers in the data center stay synchronized with the servers in the redundant center using a method that the company describes as being similar to how RAID hard disks are synchronized. This gives the data center the ability to fail over in the very short time required to change the IP addresses to the new hardware.
According to 1&1, this increased efficiency results in lower costs to users. It also means that users can base their hosting, email, e-commerce and cloud support with a reasonable certainty that the data will be there when they need it. Perhaps more important, customers don’t need to be involved in backup and recovery of their information that’s in the data center, since that’s already handled through the geo-redundancy and real-time synchronization.
All of this effort at energy efficiency, redundancy and reliability means that 1&1 can deliver the kind of service levels to small and midsized companies that only large companies can usually afford. In addition, smaller companies have the peace of mind in knowing that their energy use is much lower than it ever could be if they built their own data center, and that their wasted energy is much lower.
This is the kind of efficiency that only big data centers can deliver and those are beyond the reach of most small and midsized companies. Likewise, so are the levels of efficiency that allow the 1&1 data center to take advantage of reduced energy requirements.
“All of our products which assist small or midsized businesses have the support of our state-of-the-art, green data center,” Mauss said. He said that the support includes companies running 1&1’s original hosting products as well as companies using the cloud for applications or storage-something that these businesses could never do on their own.