Big Data Means Big Possibilities
By Mark Kleszczewski
As digital technology advances and the world grows more interconnected, the boom in ‘big data’ is continuing at an astounding pace. In less than a decade, we’ve arrived at a point where a single company like Facebook generates more than 2 billion pieces of content and 500 terabytes of data per day, while Wall Street brokerages are executing trades in millionths of a second. According to research from Cisco, global Internet traffic will reach an enormous 966 exabytes per year by 2015, which is also when market research firm International Data Corp. estimates there will be 2.7 billion users online.
Access to sufficient power, avoidance of natural hazards and even availability of financial incentives will remain essential factors in the final site selection decision for data centers, but today’s staggering data growth is driving huge demand for resources from highly-qualified data scientists and engineers, to more flexible infrastructure and new ways of responding to disasters. Communities with existing software and computing clusters are certainly at an advantage in this new era, but data center operations are also flocking to areas where industry talent and innovation are in abundance.
One of the fastest-growing areas for data center facilities and expansions is in Utah, where private and public organizations are tapping into a workforce well-versed in information technology.
“We have an IT cluster that goes all the way back to some of the original software companies like Novell, WordPerfect and Microsoft,” says Christopher M. Conabee, managing director of corporate recruitment and business services, Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “There’s an entrepreneurial spirit and business environment here supported by good governance and fiscal leadership which makes companies looking to deploy large-scale IT campuses worth hundreds of millions of dollars very comfortable.”
Indeed, Utah’s computer industry has been significantly outpacing the national average in recent years with much of activity concentrated in a corridor many are now calling the “Silicon Slopes” — equidistant between Brigham Young University and the University of Utah.
In addition to the National Security Agency’s heavily-fortified, $2 billion Utah Data Center slated for completion in Bluffdale by September 2013, two other data center projects in the state stand out.
In South Jordan, eBay has overhauled its 40-acre campus to feature Bloom Energy Servers — also known as “Bloom boxes” — making it the first major tech company to use alternative power cells as a primary energy source for its data centers while reducing its reliance on uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units and backup generators.
Over in Draper, about 500 jobs are expected to be filled at EMC Corp.’s new technical center by the end of 2015. The facility supports U.S.-based customers including federal agencies, while benefitting from Utah’s high population of Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese speakers to serve Central America and South America.
New Data, New Solutions
Companies expanding or building new data centers the world over are facing more challenges but also have more options than in previous years.
“When it comes to data center design and operation, there are many factors that come into play, so there’s no set approach,” says Larry Davis, vice president, IT Solutions Group and director of marketing, PTS Data Center Solutions Inc. “It’s important to understand what a client’s requirements and IT infrastructure are, but understanding where they may be in the next two to five years is critical, especially in the areas of disaster recovery, cost management and energy-efficiency. Senior executives, whether at small and mid-size companies or large enterprises, have to be looking at better ways to reduce risk.”
As Hurricane Sandy illustrated last fall, many organizations which thought they were protected, were not. Redundancy is more than just having backup infrastructure, Davis explains, it’s also being prepared to protect data and business continuity with a variety of tailored strategies when the unexpected hits.
For example, when low-latency is not a requirement, mirroring technology is now available in an all-inclusive appliance that provides processing, storage, virtualization and backup capability when “married” to a sister appliance in an offsite colocation facility. Also, to attain true disaster preparedness, companies with critical assets should consider having multiple sites, preferably spread out among different utilities or power grids and separate network service providers.
From a capital perspective, Davis continues, costs can mount quickly, so it’s important to recognize that there are now many different vendors offering a wide variety of modular technologies and components, making so-called pods, containers and other modular arrangements an effective option for data center builders.
“As designers, we like modularity because it allows you to build a customized data center incrementally, yet rapidly,” Davis says. Rather than having to build a 20,000-square-foot facility immediately, a data center can start at 5,000 square feet then grow over time as needed. Using containers and pre-built pods also helps with energy efficiency, since their lighting and cooling requirements are much lower.
Corporate organizations, commercial data centers and other worldwide customers searching for flexibility in their data center deployments will be able to profit from modular solutions, confirms Jeroen Hol, CEO, Minkels.
An extreme example of implementing modular methods can be found in Switzerland at the Deltalis RadixCloud facility, a cloud-oriented data center housed in a former Swiss Air Force bunker in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Secured by a 20-ton door and built into the granite rock with 15,000 square feet of available data center space, the multi-story complex is also highly energy-efficient, thanks to abundant natural cooling resources which include the mountain’s glacier water.
“The modular approach as a strategic and integral part of the data center project, combined with the above-average attention given to energy efficiency, makes this data center deployment in the Swiss mountains a very unique one,” Hol says. “The approach was necessary to adjust to scalability requirements and capricious conditions like vaulted ceilings and pillars around which we had to create a colocation infrastructure.”
From racks and aisle containment to cooling, power distribution and monitoring, each and every project pretty much has its own very specific requirements towards its data center suppliers, Hol notes. That’s why Minkels adopted modularity and even full customization as integral parts of its data center services years ago, he says.
Farther north in Europe, significant projects and investments in data centers are underway in Ireland, which has been steadily growing an ecosystem of major cloud computing brands — from both existing multinationals based in the country since the 1980s, along with more recent start-ups emerging from Silicon Valley.
“We’ve had a lot of success traditionally with many of the legacy software companies and now with the next-generation Internet companies coming in, we’ve been focusing on cloud computing and big data,” says Barry O’Dowd, head of emerging technologies, IDA Ireland. “Besides a favorable corporate tax rate and strong intellectual property and data protection, we’ve invested a lot in telecommunications and are putting a lot of emphasis nationally on education that supports big data operations. Having one of the youngest populations in Europe with a lot of highly-skilled talent coming through also adds to a very attractive environment.”
Ready access to Europe and a naturally cool climate, are additional draws for industry stalwarts like Microsoft which has begun investing an additional $130 million to expand its data center located in Dublin. The investment builds on an original $500 million investment the company made in its 300,000-square-foot Dublin data center, which has been operational since July 2009, serving customers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Although heavyweights Microsoft and Google — which recently completed a $100 million data center in Clondalkin — are garnering headlines for their large-scale investments in the country, other industry leaders such as Amazon, EMC, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, PayPal and Twitter continue to grow in Ireland. They are also being joined by the likes of 10gen, Dropbox, Etsy, HubSpot and most recently, Zendesk — all of which have opened or announced plans to open offices in the country, concentrated in the part of Dublin often referred to as “Silicon Docks.”
From Digital to Tangible
“We see big data and cloud computing as a huge area of opportunity over the next five to seven years, so investing in this area has been a key agenda item for the government here in Ireland,” O’Dowd says. “We’ve already had many early stage and emerging companies in the space come here, but we envision more and more of these companies choosing Ireland as the location for their data centers and other IT activities.”
“IT and data center companies are attracted to Utah’s stability, low operating costs and long experience in the sector, but it’s the people here that make the difference,” says Utah’s Conabee. “We’ve got the youngest population in the nation, with 130 languages being spoken in business every day in the state. And not only is our workforce highly-productive, they have a mindset that has served us well. Most folks here want to be fulfilled and are looking for a career, not just a job. For data centers, that leads to a great pool of workers who are being actively recruited by companies in the industry. We look forward to seeing more growth in the sector here in the years ahead.”
Mark Kleszczewski is president and CEO of GoBusiness Group LLC and a freelance writer on critical business topics. He can be reached at email@example.com
Illustration by photoexplorer at Free Digital Photos.net