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GCN : August 2013
34 GCN AUGUST 2013 • GCN.COM AT A RECENT "Xperience E ciency" conference hosted by Schneider Electric, there was a standing room-only audience for a session on how to get the most e ciency out of government data centers. But while people do seem to be thinking outside the box on this question, the physical data center itself seems un- likely to change. Or does it? The IT industry has been making strides in its attempts to build e cient data centers. Some designs take innovative approaches to cooling, includ- ing using ice built up on data center walkways, installing underground bunkers that remain naturally cool (as well as bomb-proof) and a new data center campus that doesn t even have a roof. But one thing they all have in common is that they are permanent structures. Now even that might change. We re seeing a new trend toward modular data centers, prefabricated units that can fit onto a flatbed truck, allowing an organization to expand or shrink its capacity as needed. It s not like calling for a pizza --- systems can still take months to set up --- but the concept is reasonable. A trailer is loaded up with data center computers, all config- ured and likely having all the cooling and power needs that systems inside need. When a facility needs to add capacity, the new trailer is driven out to the data center and plugged into a matrix using standard components, bringing the ex- tra capacity online. Removing extra capacity is just as easy. Just decouple it and go. An agency or organization saves money by avoiding the construction and engineering costs of building a physical data center. The military has been using and refining this concept for some time because it needs to rapidly deploy mobile data centers. But it s still a new concept for most civilian agencies used to having their data centers firmly planted on concrete. IO, a company that special- izes in this new type of mo- bile, scalable center, says its data centers are more protect- ed than the average facility. The units are self-contained and software-defined, so they don t rely on a large indus- trial infrastructure that could be vulnerable to physical or cyber-based attacks, or simply mechanical breakdowns, said Bob Butler, the company s chief security o cer. Mobile data centers also simplify operations, which could help improve e ciency. Many data center e ciency tips at the Xperience confer- ence involved physical infra- structure and making sure the IT sta and the facility sta worked together. Another possible advan- tage is that, if needed, an entire data center could simply be moved to a new location, perhaps to get out of the way of a hurricane. Though this is not as easy as simply jumping in a car and driving away, it s at least pos- sible with the modular data centers, whereas a traditional facility is nearly impossible to relocate without months, if not years, of planning. One of the factors holding back greater use of mobile data centers is simply that the technology is not very mature, and companies that o er it have greatly varying skill levels. But in an era of tight budgets and shifting IT requirements, it seems likely to catch on. Who would have thought that data centers, which remained largely unchanged for the past 10 or 15 years, would suddenly become a hotbed of innovation? • HOW DATA CENTERS ARE CHANGING BEFORE OUR EYES BY JOHN BREEDEN II EMERGING TECH SEC TAKES 'DATA CENTER 2.0' APPROACH FOR EDGAR SYSTEM The Securities and Exchange Commission this Spring signed a $17.5 million contract with IO Government Services, making good on plans made last year to outsource the data center services that support its ED- GAR financial records database operations. EDGAR, the SEC's Electronic Data Gath- ering and Retrieval system, currently is run out of an SEC data center in Alexandria, Va. SEC chairwoman Mary Shapiro said in a letter to Congress last July that outsourc- ing and shutting down the facility would save the agency $18 million. The giant database, which supports the financial reporting of U.S. public compa- nies, will be outsourced to IO Government, a unit of data center innovator IO that offers a set of small, modular data centers that are convenient to house and designed to make it easier for customers to add computing resources as needed. The company's IO.Anywhere line of data centers are offered in a range of campus, enterprise and service-provider modules that include their own cooling systems and backup power. The modules run on the IO.OS data center operating system, which is designed to offer customers control and flexibility to scale services as the demand dictates. IO says its "Data Center 2.0" approach "marks a shift from large real estate-based infrastructures to flexible and sustainable modular installations."