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Rocket Science in the Data Center

April 20, 2011 at 10:00 am PST

I have been involved in a lot of Data Center projects over the years and during the design discussions someone almost invariably observes:  “it’s not rocket science.  We’re just building a Data Center.”

It turns out there is rocket science in some Data Centers after all.

A handful of server environments now incorporate hydrogen fuel cells, the same technology that helped U.S. spacecraft reach the moon as part of the Gemini and Apollo space missions in the 1960s and are still used in space shuttles today.  Data Center industry publications have in recent years reported fuel cells helping power server environments belonging to the First National Bank of Omaha, Fujitsu and Verizon.

Hydrogen fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity and produce heat and water as byproducts.  They typically run on natural gas, which although not a renewable energy does emits less carbon, sulfur and nitrogen than other sources.  Probably the best known fuel cell on the market is Bloom Energy’s “Bloom Box” that was profiled by 60 Minutes in 2010.

So, are we at Cisco using fuel cells in Data Centers?  Watch below to see why or why not.

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Data Center Constructed!

April 15, 2011 at 5:01 am PST

 

Overture, curtains, lights…

We’re formally opening a new Data Center today here at Cisco.  In light of that, let’s forgo Data Center Deconstructed’s usual video Q&A and spend some time kicking the site’s proverbial tires.

Located in Allen, Texas, the new Data Center is a tier 3 facility with a 38,000 sq. ft. (3,530 sq. m.) hosting area and powered by redundant 10 MW feeds providing 5.25 MW of capacity for IT.

An overhead view of Cisco's new tier 3 Data Center in Allen, Texas.

I participated in several of the design meetings for the Data Center and am enthusiastic about a lot of the features that have been incorporated into its design.  (No surprise, the facility uses all of the green strategies I discussed in Energy Efficiency Makes Two Kinds of Green and then some.)  A few of my favorite features:

  • The active-active configuration.  The Allen Data Center is linked to another tier 3 Data Center in Richardson, Texas, so each facility is a primary Data Center that also serves as a secondary facility for the other.  Cisco calls the pair a Metro Virtual Data Center – I call it really hard to knock offline.  (We like this model so much that we’re planning to build similar pairs in other theaters.)
  • The server cabinets.  As shown in the image below, the Data Center’s cabinets have exhaust chimneys that allow hot air generated by hardware to flow into a plenum space and avoid mixing with incoming chilled air.  This helps the cooling system operate more efficiently.  (We used a similar design in our Richardson Data Center, too.)
  • A rotary UPS.  If anything in a Data Center’s standby infrastructure is going to fail it’s the batteries, so I’m happy to dispense with a static UPS at this site.  The rotary UPS contains a large, spinning flywheel and in the event of a utility power failure that kinetic energy will supply several seconds of ride-through power, long enough to transfer the Data Center’s electrical load to standby generators.

Enclosed cabinets with vertical exhaust ducts (chimneys) help isolate hot and cold airflow.

These are some of my favorites, but they’re just part of what this Data Center has to offer.  For a deeper look, check out the interactive videos and detailed case study about the facility.  Happy viewing!

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The Rodney Dangerfield of Data Center Infrastructure

April 6, 2011 at 10:00 am PST

Server cabinets typically get no respect when folks try to improve the energy efficiency of their Data Centers.   Why would they?  Cabinets don’t consume power.  They don’t even have moving parts.  They’re the second-string of Data Center physical infrastructure, used only so hardware, power strips and patch fields don’t have to sit in a heap on the hosting area floor.

If you’re treating the cabinets in your Data Center like nothing more than shelving units, though, you’re overlooking a useful tool.  Choosing the right server cabinet and being strategic about how components are installed within them can optimize airflow, reduce hot spots and even reduce power consumption as the Data Center’s cooling system doesn’t have to work as hard.

Consider their role in dissipating heat produced by high-performance hardware.

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Real-Time Video: From Science Fiction to Reality

March 30, 2011 at 10:00 am PST

If you were making a movie or television show about the future, what fantastic technology would you feature?  How many years do you think it would take for that technology to not only be invented but also come in to common usage?

I participate frequently in Telepresence calls for my job.  Video communication was the stuff of science fiction long before being developed to the point that any of us could use it in real life, though.  Back in 1966, Star Trek showed starship-to-starship video transmissions alongside molecular transporters, food replicators and faster-than-light space travel.  More than 40 years later I still can’t beam on to a starship or travel at warp speed but I can and do have real-time video conversations with people around the planet.

Fascinating, as Mr. Spock would say.

As we use video more and more in our everyday activities, how is Cisco accommodating increasing traffic on its own network infrastructure?

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Energy Efficiency Makes Two Kinds of Green

March 23, 2011 at 10:00 am PST

Would you believe you can have yourself a pretty successful business upgrading office buildings with more energy-efficient light bulbs and timers to switch off heating and cooling systems after hours?

I worked as a newspaper reporter for much of the 1990s.  I wrote an article in 1993 about how the city of Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County had hired a firm to retrofit its field services office with new lighting, timers and other energy-efficient solutions.  The improvements were expected to save about $70,000 per year.

What always intrigued me about the story was that the company that performed the upgrades not only allowed Santa Clarita to incrementally pay for the improvements out of the savings from lowered utility bills but also guaranteed those savings would more than offset the price tag of the improvements in 5 years.  If the savings didn’t materialize, the company would pay the shortfall back to the city.

Everyone wins.  The company performing the upgrades gets paid for doing the upgrade work, the city saves money on its utility bills for years to come and the environment is better off due to reduced energy consumption and associated carbon emissions.

Now, consider that modern Data Centers can have power densities 50 to 100 times those of conventional office buildings.  How much greater green -- both financial and environmental kind - can be had by saving energy in those environments?  With that in mind, here is an overview of several strategies being implemented in Data Centers to make them greener.

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