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6/2/2014
08:06 AM
Charles Babcock and Chris Murphy
Charles Babcock and Chris Murphy
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6 Models Of The Modern Data Center

Our exclusive look inside the new data centers of Fidelity, GM, Capital One, Equinix, ServiceNow, and Bank Of America shows the future of computing.
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Equinix focuses on communications
Data center operator Equinix bases its decision on where to build a new facility on four main considerations: communications capabilities and location, location, location.  
Equinix is one of the premier builders of communications hubs and co-location facilities, with a specialty of locating just outside some of the world's largest trading and retail markets -- New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago, among others. One of its newest is an eight-story building in Seattle. 
Equinix caters to data center customers who put a premium on speed, reliability, and multiple providers of their communications -- thus Equinix's special attention to telecom links and physical location. For example, a software-as-a-service vendor may use Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure for cloud computing and storage but connect that computing power via a high-speed private-line access to a nearby Equinix communications hub. In that hub, Equinix can let the SaaS vendor deliver data to end customers using a carrier that isn't available inside an Amazon or Microsoft cloud facility. AWS's Direct Connect service, Microsoft's ExpressRoute, and Verizon's Secure Cloud Interconnect services all use Equinix for this kind of routing to other telecom carriers or services. 
Carrier-neutral communications hubs help businesses looking to extend into territories that their primary telecom suppliers don't serve well. For a global presence, a business will almost certainly need a number of carriers to make sure its website and services have fast response times in different parts of the world. 
Equinix concentrates many communications carriers in a 'network neutral' facility -- any carrier can be connected to any other carrier to let a company optimize speed, cost, or reliability. Today Equinix builds those connections manually, running a fiber jumper from carrier A to carrier B, says Equinix CIO Brian Lillie. In the near future, it will create new connections via a software function, implemented over a virtual network taking advantage of established physical connections, Lillie says. That will let customers switch carriers more readily than they do today. 
The data center as communications hub has become more important as businesses become more digital, based on e-commerce and online customer interaction. It's hard for companies building their own data centers to replicate a telecom hub, since generally a company only gets one or two carriers as primary providers. By comparison, Equinix's Ashburn, Va., center -- near Amazon's US East data center complex -- houses 130 carriers; a typical Equinix center has 50 to 60.  
Equinix operates 100 data centers in 33 urban centers around the globe, which means building an Equinix data center with the latest switching equipment and 10-Gbps, 40-Gbps, and soon, 100-Gbps fiber optic lines. A total of 975 carriers can be found in one or more of its data centers. Equinix operates seven such centers in the New York City area, including two in Manhattan, catering to financial services companies for functions such as high-speed trading. 
Other notable features include: 

Testing for trouble: Lillie says it's difficult to get two electricity sources in some dense urban locations, so Equinix has to build even more uninterruptible power supply and backup generator infrastructure into those than most data centers. It also does some interesting testing. When those huge diesel backup generators kick in during a power loss, they can produce vibrations that cause other equipment to vibrate and potentially overheat. So when testing the generators, technicians scan the data center with infrared cameras, looking for an equipment heat signature that might indicate trouble. 'Just because you build for reliability doesn't mean that you have it operationally,' Lillie warns. 
Cloud Exchange: A new Equinix service lets companies move enterprise data and workloads with less exposure on the public Internet. A customer may then need to make only limited use of the Internet to get to an Equinix center, or it may establish a private connection, making the route all private.

Equinix focuses on communications

Data center operator Equinix bases its decision on where to build a new facility on four main considerations: communications capabilities and location, location, location.

Equinix is one of the premier builders of communications hubs and co-location facilities, with a specialty of locating just outside some of the world's largest trading and retail markets -- New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago, among others. One of its newest is an eight-story building in Seattle.

Equinix caters to data center customers who put a premium on speed, reliability, and multiple providers of their communications -- thus Equinix's special attention to telecom links and physical location. For example, a software-as-a-service vendor may use Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure for cloud computing and storage but connect that computing power via a high-speed private-line access to a nearby Equinix communications hub. In that hub, Equinix can let the SaaS vendor deliver data to end customers using a carrier that isn't available inside an Amazon or Microsoft cloud facility. AWS's Direct Connect service, Microsoft's ExpressRoute, and Verizon's Secure Cloud Interconnect services all use Equinix for this kind of routing to other telecom carriers or services.

Carrier-neutral communications hubs help businesses looking to extend into territories that their primary telecom suppliers don't serve well. For a global presence, a business will almost certainly need a number of carriers to make sure its website and services have fast response times in different parts of the world.

Equinix concentrates many communications carriers in a "network neutral" facility -- any carrier can be connected to any other carrier to let a company optimize speed, cost, or reliability. Today Equinix builds those connections manually, running a fiber jumper from carrier A to carrier B, says Equinix CIO Brian Lillie. In the near future, it will create new connections via a software function, implemented over a virtual network taking advantage of established physical connections, Lillie says. That will let customers switch carriers more readily than they do today.

The data center as communications hub has become more important as businesses become more digital, based on e-commerce and online customer interaction. It's hard for companies building their own data centers to replicate a telecom hub, since generally a company only gets one or two carriers as primary providers. By comparison, Equinix's Ashburn, Va., center -- near Amazon's US East data center complex -- houses 130 carriers; a typical Equinix center has 50 to 60.

Equinix operates 100 data centers in 33 urban centers around the globe, which means building an Equinix data center with the latest switching equipment and 10-Gbps, 40-Gbps, and soon, 100-Gbps fiber optic lines. A total of 975 carriers can be found in one or more of its data centers. Equinix operates seven such centers in the New York City area, including two in Manhattan, catering to financial services companies for functions such as high-speed trading.

Other notable features include:

Testing for trouble: Lillie says it's difficult to get two electricity sources in some dense urban locations, so Equinix has to build even more uninterruptible power supply and backup generator infrastructure into those than most data centers. It also does some interesting testing. When those huge diesel backup generators kick in during a power loss, they can produce vibrations that cause other equipment to vibrate and potentially overheat. So when testing the generators, technicians scan the data center with infrared cameras, looking for an equipment heat signature that might indicate trouble. "Just because you build for reliability doesn't mean that you have it operationally," Lillie warns.

Cloud Exchange: A new Equinix service lets companies move enterprise data and workloads with less exposure on the public Internet. A customer may then need to make only limited use of the Internet to get to an Equinix center, or it may establish a private connection, making the route all private.

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Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/17/2014 | 4:23:21 PM
Nebraska data center built to withstand an F3 force gale. What about two?
Fidelity built its new data center near Omaha, Nebraska, which is about 90 miles from where the twin tornadoes struck Pilger, Neb., June 16. Its steel-frame rooms can withstand an F3 force wind, which includes all but the largest tornadoes. Not sure, though, whether it can withstand two of them at the same time.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2014 | 3:32:06 PM
Open Compute key to future data center hardware?
Facebook uses servers based on the Open Compute Project's motherboard design. It's also testing data center switches based on Broadcom's design submitted to the Open Compute Project. Mellanox, Big Switch and Broadcom are all planning on building Open Compute-design switches. Facebook is using some of the swtiches for an SDN production network, Yevgeniy Severdlil reported on Data Center Knowledge today.  http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2014/06/03/facebook-testing-broadcoms-open-compute-switches-production/
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2014 | 3:18:55 PM
Minimizing power consumption in its distribution
Another phase of modern data center building addresses how it manages its power supply. There are actually a wide variety of schemes to make power uninteruptible -- and they require some small amount of energy themselves to stay ready at an instant's notice for a switchover. A closet full of 12 volt batteries, with some portion of incoming current flowing through them, is one solution. A gateway between the batteries and alternating current can be built from an insulated gate bipolar transistor, which instantly conveys direct current if the alternating current goes away. That bypasses the need to run a little of the incoming current through the batteries, saving energy, an innovation by the Vantage data center builders.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2014 | 10:06:28 AM
Re: Speed will drive architecture
Midsize companies often struggle just to so an apples-to-apples cost comparison between in house and cloud. Great look inside these data centers, Chris and Charlie. Did anything surprise you here, readers?
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2014 | 9:31:46 AM
Re: Speed will drive architecture
Well put, James -- I have heard a number of midsized companies say they're benchmarking their data centers against cloud options, and believe they're competitive on costs. And as you say, cloud doesn't fit well for every app. It seems to me like we're seeing hybrid, but it's hybrid silos -- this goes cloud all the time, that stays on prem all the time, and there's very little dynamic switching (cloud bursting) between cloud and on prem. If others are seeing a lot of that dynamic switching between cloud and on prem, I'd love to hear about it. 
JamesV012
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JamesV012,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/3/2014 | 9:25:42 AM
Re: Speed will drive architecture
Agreed that the larger companies aren't building a secret competitive advantage and are pretty open about how they do datacenter. I am playing from the mid-sized company tees. If you are more effiecient on cost or speed, I still consider that a competitive advantage. At the mid size, having data center and networking architecture designed for your needs can be a win.

My point was a bit cryptic. So many people are looking at cloud plays for infrastructure. While that can make sense for many applications, it isn't the new one size fits all. I think you'll see hybrid cloud/on prem architecture patterns being an advantage. 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
6/3/2014 | 9:14:21 AM
Re: Speed will drive architecture
You note the competitive advantage that comes from the data center. But it's interesting how companies like Facebook are very open about their data center innovations -- seeing data centers as a cost to be lowered, and the more ideas they can share and spur the better. The tactics of running a world-class data center seem well understood, the challenge lies in executing on those tactics and then wringing the most value out, with steps like Capital One is taking to speed development and make sure infrastructure can keep up. 
JamesV012
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JamesV012,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/2/2014 | 1:38:35 PM
Speed will drive architecture
As you saw the drive at FB and Google, other companies will realize you can build a competitive advantage in the data center. That could be speed, cost or security. As big data gets crunched more and more, having a dedicated infrastructure designed to handle it, may provide a competitive advantage.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 1:23:10 PM
The just-in-time data center
Fidelity's idea of a just-in-time data center, based on Open Compute hardware, built in modifiable increments is a drastic departure from the fixed in concrete notions that preceded it. Are there other ways to make data centers more adaptable?
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 9:40:23 AM
Beyond Google and Facebook
What drew Charlie and I to this article idea is that, even in this age of the cloud, we keep seeing companies make major investments in their own data centers. We've written about DC innovation at the Internet companies like Google and Facebook, but these companies profiled here have different needs, from strict regulations to legacy apps. 
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