Data Centers of the Future: Containerized, On Racks, Or at Sea?

By CIOReview | Tuesday, February 18, 2014

FREMONT, CA: Data Centers are facilities that house computers and its associated components such as telecommunications and storage systems. They are located onsite or leased from a third-party, and are found in the most unlikeliest of places such as in the tundras of the Antartica to even in a 19th century church. They come in different sizes, large and small and are built as per the requirement of clients.

Google recently received a patent for building its Data Center platforms at the sea. Visualize a Data Center located on an oil platform for computing and storage running on wind and solar power. Hard to imagine? But that may be possible in the future.

Facebook recently announced that it plans to open source Presto, the data engine which powers the storage and retrieval of over 300 petabytes of data for its one billion users. This means that Open Source is expected to play an important role in the future. The company also intends to use Blu-rays for “cold storage,” data which cannot be disposed off but may not be used for years. The discs are estimated to be 50 percent cheaper and 80 percent more energy efficient; while being certified to be operable for more than 50 years. The Blu-ray system will be "far superior to tape" because of its durability and performance and hence  seen as an option for usage in storage in Data Centers in the future.

Who expected a mobile phone or a laptop two decades ago. Who thought there would evolve a device which could calculate a million calculations in a second. Similarly, a tablet or laptop of today, maybe the Data Center of the future.

 Data Centers today host web pages and social networking sites, stream videos, along with shrinking and storing information. However, in the future, we can expect to see them producing their own power. As they consume a lot of energy, companies are trying innovative methods to reduce energy usage and pollution while maintaining reliability. Currently, the main source for power for these centers is the electricity from utilities or from onsite renewable generation. However, in the future they are expected to be powered by fuel cells, which work by the splitting of protons and electrons from a fuel molecule. The placement and capacity of these cells depends on the needs of their operators. A server rack integrated with a fuel cell, seems to be the future powering option for the centers, is designed for eliminating the power distribution system in the center, while replacing it with a fuel network which also isolates fuel cell failures. The challenge here is to find stability between reliability, cost and efficiency. The other challenge is the ability of the fuel cell to follow the load profile of the data units; demand can spike in milliseconds while the fuel cells are slow to react.

 A decade ago, a personal computer was an investment for which people would invest their time and money to shop for the chassis, processor, hard drive, memory, monitor, and video card – either together or separately to be assembled later; and then proceed with installing the operating system along with other necessary software. Jumping forward to the present, people do not have the time or patience assembling their own computer and would rather purchase one off the shelf according to their specifications. Data Centers too are following a similar pattern. That is, the clients only have to specify their requirements; whether small, medium or large, based on which the unit will be created.

Data Centers are ever changing based on the needs of the client and the workload. In the future they are seen as rows of modular or containerized units, stacked together; each working independently of the other depending on the needs of the workloads. With the ever increasing needs of the clients, a large Data Center is never large enough, faster is not fast enough and cheaper is never cheap enough.

Another important factor to tackle is security. Data on personal devices is increasing and are used in different sources. This data needs to be protected as you need to know who has access control of the data. The legislation for protection and movement of data, ensure that the data is protected and secure; however, derived data such as results of anonymous queries can be subjected to analysis elsewhere. However, safe the data is purported to be, there is always an overriding concern.