eBay: Data center efficiency = business survival

eBay: Data center efficiency = business survival

Summary: Back in 2007, the powers-that-be at eBay had an epiphany: The way it was building data centers was unsustainable, especially from a power and cooling standpoint."At some point, the cost of running the sites would negatively affect our business," said Dean Nelson, senior director of Global Data Center Services for eBay, during a presentation at the recent Symposium 2010, held by the Uptime Institute in New York.

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Back in 2007, the powers-that-be at eBay had an epiphany: The way it was building data centers was unsustainable, especially from a power and cooling standpoint.

"At some point, the cost of running the sites would negatively affect our business," said Dean Nelson, senior director of Global Data Center Services for eBay, during a presentation at the recent Symposium 2010, held by the Uptime Institute in New York.

See also: eBay Sets a Realistic Goal for their New Datacenter

That's when eBay started thinking about its data centers in a very different way, not as something that supports the business but as something that IS the business. When the company has an outage, Nelson says, his boss doesn't ask about the problem in technology terms but rather in terms directly related to the business.

"She doesn't ask how much time we were down, she asks about how much money we lost," he says.

For context, consider that roughly $2,000 worth of goods are trade on eBay every second. Yes, every second. When Nelson spoke in mid-May, he said there were approximately 215 million items listed on the site, a number that grew by roughly 40 million in the past nine months.

So, how can eBay sustain this growth: Nelson says the trick lies in breaking the linear relationship between transaction growth and hardware sprawl. This takes smart design from a hardware standpoint -- servers AND facilities -- AND it takes more intelligent design from an application standpoint. Nelson cares about power consumption because, pure and simple, he is responsible for the power bill.

"The application should tell the infrastructure what exactly to do. It should only consume energy when it is needs to," Nelson says.

This was one of the guiding principles for the company's massive new data center, a $287 million infrastructure investment in Utah that opened in early May and that will house all of eBay's core businesses. Nelson describes the facility as "bullet-proof", not just from a resiliency standpoint but from an efficiency standpoint.

According to Nelson, this particular facility is about 30 percent more efficient than eBay's other data centers at a designed Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.4: "We only consume the energy we need, when we need it," Nelson writes in his blog. The entire infrastructure runs at 400V, which delivers 230V directly to the servers. That change alone resulted in a 2 percent efficiency gain, Nelson says.

An interior view of the new Utah data center.

An interior view of the new Utah data center.

You can read more of the copious juicy details on the facility there. But during his Uptime presentation, Nelson provided other data center managers with five pointers that he believes should drive their own data center overhauls:

  1. Create tiered data centers that are rightsized. This actually was a common refrain during Symposium 2010; the notion that many servers are way over-provisioned.
  2. Use the latest technology innovation; but remember that improvements in power infrastructure will have a ripple effect on how servers should be configured. And vice versa.
  3. Be flexible from a financial standpoint. eBay actuallly move to a two-year leasing policy in order to refresh its technology as often as possible.
  4. Look at the total cost of ownership equation in a different way: Transactions per watt or listing, or dollars generated per watt. Power is their biggest operational cost. "Transactions per second really is no longer the primary metric," Nelson says.
  5. Drive aggressive technology refresh cycles, which can help you double capacity every 18 months to 24 months within the same footprint. "We have doubled and almost tripled our capacity in some instances and our costs have stayed flat," Nelson says. "That a really good thing."

Topics: Data Centers, E-Commerce, Hardware, Storage

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  • RE: eBay: Data center efficiency = business survival

    Now, you would be talking about the data centre that was supposed to handle all that idiotic dumping of store items into core, but which has obviously not been able to handle the increased load, to the detriment of most eBay sellers, I suspect, and to eBay themselves. Good onya John, you've done it again!

    Draft Media Release?Confidential

    It is with great sadness that ?Noise? Donahoe (aka ?Peter Principle?), eBay?s Chief Headless Turkey, announces the probable demise of eBay?s most ugly daughter, PayPal. PayPal is about to be stricken by a particularly virulent strain of Visa CyberSource, accompanied by insurmountable financial institutions complications and merchant dissatisfaction. PayPal?s health may therefore be expected to deteriorate and, if ultimately not completely incapacitated, will most likely be eventually confined to what little there is by then left of the Donahoe-devastated eBay Marketplaces. There is no cure this condition, and the ?eBafia Don? is particularly saddened by the inevitable presumption that it is unlikely that PayPal will be able to continue to underpin eBay?s bottom line in the future.

    A detailed examination of and prognosis for PayPal at
    <url>http://www.auctionbytes.com/forum/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=6504554</url>

    And, for anyone interested in eBay?s deviousness generally, and in particular eBay?s demonstrable and deliberate criminal facilitation of the rampant shill bidding fraud being perpetrated by many unscrupulous professional sellers on buyers, particularly on nominal-start auctions, an introduction thereto (along with some good PayPal horror stories thrown in for good measure) can be found at
    <url>http://www.auctionbytes.com/forum/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=6502877</url>

    A practical observation on the risks of stupidity was made by the German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord in ?Truppenf?hrung?, 1933: ?I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!?

    Clearly, the Stanford-trained and Bain & Co-matured fool, ?Noise? Donahoe, and his gaggle of gobbling sycophantic fellow headless turkeys fall into this last group, and should be ?removed immediately?, before they can complete the total destruction of the eBay Marketplace?although I suspect that by now the poor patient has been mortally wounded by the head quack?s clearly insane and criminal policies and totally incompetent case management.

    eBay/PayPal/Donahoe: Dead Men Walking
    Philip Cohen
    • wah?

      @Philip Cohen

      Your speaking jibberish. I dont have any problems with the services they offer. I think ebay is a little price intensive for a store to operate, but thats it.
      Been_Done_Before