Pac-Man Runs as Servers Burn

Opinion: Data centers are as retro as the downed MySpace's placeholder.

Last week among the casualties of the California heat wave was, 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 next year.

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.

/zimages/3/28571.gifWhos to blame for the outage at MySpace? Click here to read more.

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 company depends.

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 [email protected]

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