5 years ago, your average data center hosting 10,000 servers looked like a linoleum covered football field, was wicked cold, yet had plenty of aisles where you could break a sweat due to warm air-current hot-spots. In the early century, air-convection planning and floor-space reconfigurations were considered ‘green’ strategies to reduce environmental costs.
Flash forward to, uh now, for those who haven’t seen the video of google data centers, this is an interesting glimpse into the world of massive-scale distributed computing on the cheap and the green.
First, some observations:
What you see:
- Lots of modular components: starting with containers, basic power and plumbing conduits, heat-exchangers, and lots of open-case x86 kit crammed into high-density confined spaces.
- An obsessive design focus on minimizing the Power Usage Effectiveness ratio
- Centralized cooling and power infrastructure and many non-descript containers in a warehouse rack configuration
- Vertical distribution of gear and workload (way beyond the scale of your average data center rack)
- As noted in the exceptionally dry video dialogue, 45000 servers across 45 containers (1000 servers per container), in a single warehouse type facility
- (now, close your eyes and imagine Google running on over 450,000 servers world wide and tell me if you’re going to sign up for a yahoo account tomorrow)
What don’t you see?
- No raised floor, specialized rooms or floors built for data center infrastructure
- The classic air conditioned hockey-rink full of heat generating equipment
- Large volumes of ambient space being cooled
- Centralized UPS / Power Fail-Safe equipment
- No cooling or power machines competing for compute space
- Vendor labels (notice, no labels whatsoever)
- Specialized hardware – in fact the hardware is engineered to be dead simple and uniform (which is relatively easy to do if your business runs massively distributed custom application code)
If you’re watching the Google drip-feed of information about their data centers, the innovation is absolutely incredible. The latest news about the chiller-less data center in Belgium, you see geography, climatology, IT infrastructure, and geographic load-balancing strategy all in play, with a goal to load-balance work away from Belgium on hot days, and not rely on a single chiller. That’s seriously more innovative than creating warm/cold air convection cells in your raised-floor meat-locker. Maybe my earth sciences degree will come in handy for IT work after all…
Next, if you take a look at the major IT infrastructure vendors, we now have a horse race to emulate big modularized x86 kit in a box, ready for rapid deployment and consumption. Sun arguably pioneered the concept several years ago with the modular data center, and now we have pods, pods, and more pods.
In the larger picture, these innovations seem to validate Friedman’s semi-futuristic speculation in Hot, Flat, & Crowded, of the convergence between power grid and IT infrastructure. Granted, it will take years, if not decades to purge legacy systems and applications, but for your average enterprise planning on ‘massively virtualized’, this isn’t a far-stretch of the imagination to see where centralized infrastructure could possibly take hold for large parts of IT infrastructure. Absolutely, there are scores of dependencies and assumptions which must be true for this to work.
The Google drip feed also shed’s light on why cloud computing is more than just a link to the next best data center. As a buddy of mine put it, ‘maybe the people who want to build their own cloud are missing the point’.