R. Fink | Data centers need pole position

The Packet Rat'commentary

The Packet Rat


A bout of 80-plus-degree April weather got the Rat thinking about something that's usually far from his mind when the spring buds ' or at least, dandelions ' start to pop open in his yard. And that something is cooling.

With one of his own computers becoming increasingly unfriendly because of poor heat dissipation ' the wirebiter is reluctant to reveal the manufacturer, but its initials are Apple ' and the density of his server farm growing daily despite his diligent efforts to deploy off-site storage options, the Rat is hyperaware of how hot things might get this summer and how many dying system boards he might be hunting down.

'Some of these servers crash so often it's like NASCAR in the data center,' the Rat complained to his facilities manager. 'I can't tell if it's heat doing it or the crappy software they run.'

Sure, all the lovely new network management toys at his command are giving the cyberrodent an increasingly data-dense view of his data center. But overheated system boards don't always faithfully report their increasingly random problems. And temperature sensors don't always tell the whole story.

The chaotic properties of computers' cooking processors would be a casual concern if it weren't for the low roof of the whiskered one's data center and the confined nature of his electrical distribution. In other words, he's hit the cooling house's glass ceiling.

And with energy costs growing to match the Rat's entire operations budget, his proposed solutions to the heating headache have become somewhat drastic.

'Sun's got those portable data centers,' the Rat mused. 'What if we just get one of those and put it in Antarctica for the summer? We're running enough Linux now that we should be able to hire penguins as sysadmins.'

'That's a bit too much of a mittens-off operational requirement, don't you think?' his wife asked. 'And where are you going to get the power to run the thing? There isn't exactly an extension cord long enough.'

'Wind power, of course,' the Rat replied. 'You saw 'March of the Penguins.' It's always windy during the winter in Antarctica. Or we could put the off-duty sysadmins on treadmills.'

'And I suppose you'll want to be on the deployment team for that project,' Mrs. Rat said, rolling her eyes.

'No, dear,' he answered. 'That's what contractors are for.'


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