Forget the raised floor, where are the generators?

The components that make up a modern datacentre often look disturbingly like commodity items: a server here, a rack there, spaghetti tangles of cable everywhere. But there's one item that is still something of a rarity -- and no, I'm not talking about the expertise needed to run it.

The components that make up a modern datacentre often look disturbingly like commodity items: a server here, a rack there, spaghetti tangles of cable everywhere.

But there's one item that is still something of a rarity -- and no, I'm not talking about the expertise needed to run it.

I was reminded of this recently while touring through Sun Microsystems' main datacentre in Santa Clara. Having consolidated 32 of its centres into one, saving 120,000 odd square feet of floor space and a whole bunch of electricity, Sun is understandably keen to show it off.

One of the relatively unusual features is a lack of raised flooring, often the most predictable element of datacentre decor. Most of the centre uses slab floors and closely-coupled cooling (though there's a small raised section for performance testing, reflecting the reality that most existing datacentres are built that way).

When centre manager Dean Nelson pointed out the gigantic 1000-ton chiller unit outside which helped make the low-floor approach possible, I remarked that presumably those were relatively uncommon items. "Oh, chillers are no problem," Nelson replied. "The challenge is getting the generators. There's a two-year lead time." Who knew? Here we are in a 24/7 on-demand society, but one of the oldest components is still one of the slowest to get delivered.

On reflection, that seems both a good and bad thing. Not being able to order generators on tap means power-hungry datacentres can't be rolled out like cane toads across the landscape. Conversely, not being able to consolidate makes it harder to reduce requirements in existing centres.

Not that we should kid ourselves that people do these things to be nice to the planet. As Nelson noted, repeating an oft-heard Sun mantra: "You're going to make economic decisions and the result will be ecology."

But you'd better place those power equipment orders fast.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Santa Clara as a guest of Sun.

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