Web Host Industry Review
As an owner of a web hosting directory several years back I was often visiting large web hosting companies. Invariably the question would arise during the visit. The web hosting company owners would say: Would you like to see our data center? Now for the first 20 or 30 times, it was actually pretty cool to look around these various data centers. There were interesting features for each one, and of course, dozens of similarities. Almost every single data center operator at some point would glance over at a certain aspect of their data center and say, That s our biggest secret in this data center. Nobody can copy that. Most of the time the secret piece of the data center was something I had seen before and in fact wasn t a true secret at all. The only reason I knew that and the data center owners didn t was because I was visiting the data centers of all their competitors.
A recent Wired article noted that Google is so secretive regarding its data center hardware setups that the company keeps whole sections of a shared data center in complete darkness. Engineers work on equipment using miner s helmets to see what they are working on. Imagine those lengths that Google is taking to protect its secrets from prying eyes.
So are there really any true data center secrets?
To find out, I polled true data center experts. These are people who have collectively seen hundreds of data centers in a number of countries around the world. Brent Oxley is the founder of HostGator one of the world s largest and most successful web hosting companies. HostGator outsources its data center needs and therefore is keenly aware of a variety of data center setups. Simon Anderson is CEO of DreamHost and Patrick Lane is Vice President of data center operations with the company. At over 300,000 accounts and climbing, DreamHost has mastered the art of data center automation. To get an overseas perspective, Daniel Foster the co-founder of Manchester, U.K. hosting provider 34SP.com weighed in. The company currently operates out of two separate outsourced data centers and has a data center in Manchester as well. Here is what these data center experts had to say regarding data center secrets that they have actually seen.
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Brent Oxley, founder of HostGator had this to say on the subject, I ve seen multiple data centers with your typical coolness including man traps and armed guards, however I ve only seen one data center with a full size pool that has regular parties. In my opinion it is absolutely possible to have a unique feature since data centers are constantly evolving to become more reliable and efficient. The best practices of today are not going to be all of the best practices of the future. I would not want my business to be involved in some science experiment and prefer to use the technology and practices tested and proven today.
When asked if he d ever seen a secret stashed away in a data center Oxley replied, I ve never been able to catch a data center hiding technical marvels. The whole idea behind a data center tour is to wow your potential clientele which means you re going to show off as much as technically possible. I have seen many data centers protect the identities of their customers as well as give incomplete tours that skip the cheaper built out sections. One further note, until we build our own data center all I can say is that SoftLayer has been an excellent provider.
Daniel Foster is the co-founder of UK-based hosting provider 34SP.com. For over 11 years Foster has been working in and around numerous data centers in the UK. Mr. Given that I completely agree with the fact that best practices are well established, I m not certain that I ve really seen anything that stands out, he says. Once you re inside the data room, one facility is much like another. Some differences lie in the access controls in place before you reach the data room, with biometrics in use in some places and simple swipe cards in others, but all data centers are about achieving the same goal; provide power, space and security to enterprise IT equipment. Most United Kingdom facilities these days use either hot or cold aisle containment to increase efficiency and the particular methods to do this vary but they all provide the same control over airflow. As far as any data center secrets are concerned, in just about all data centers, visitors are only allowed access to the common areas and the particular rooms holding their equipment. From that perspective, the whole place often seems completely concealed.
Simon Anderson is the CEO of Dreamhost. He directed us to his Vice President of Data Center Operations and mentioned, One thing I d weigh in on is that data center design is as much about the focused details as it is about the big infrastructure. Patrick Lane has innovated with his team to make our power consumption significantly more efficient, by engineering novel ways to connect each server into our UPS. He thinks outside the box, which is essential for a super automated company like DreamHost.
Patrick Lane who designs and runs the data centers at Dreamhost gave his thoughts on data center secrets, Most data centers are pretty similar. I did see one data center however, that worked around a water redundancy issue by drilling a well. Simple thinking for a simple problem, but I ve only seen it done that one place. One of those moments that make you think, why aren t more people doing this? So it is absolutely possible to have unique aspects to a data center. I wouldn t say that best practices are extremely well established. Cookie cutter designs are, though, that mostly work for most people. When you get a facility that really starts thinking about their unique problems, you can see some pretty amazing things. One data center I toured built a wall (steel, insulation and drywall) on both sides of all their rows, effectively creating hot row AND cold row isolation. Put a door on each row with a security scanner and now you have custom suites as well. A much more efficient solution than retrofitting with butchers curtains. It also eliminated the need for caging.
Lane added this advice for any company considering data center space, Go dense or go home. If you re not utilizing higher voltages and modern servers, you are probably spending too much money on OpEx.