December 11, 2013
I don’t know about you, but when I was in high school one of the basic tracks that we were required to take was Humanities. The classes mainly consisted of viewing a number of slide presentations showing classic works of art—thereby earning them the popular euphemism, “art in the dark”. Among the topics that were covered during this process of converting us from uncultured heathens for whom fine art was defined as a black velvet painting of Jimi Hendrix—available at finer abandoned gas stations everywhere—to refined esthetes who could tell the difference between a Caravaggio and a Rubens—at least on the final—was architecture. As we all know, any study of classical architecture has to include an in-depth analysis of columns and the temples and arenas they adorned. In the ancient world they were everywhere. I don’t know if the Greeks invented them, but they sure had a lot of them, and the Romans were pretty big fans of them as well. Personally, you can count me as a neo-classical fan. My own home might be more Tuscan contemporary, but don’t we all think adding a little Greek revivalist into the design mix lends an air of class to any building? I think we can all agree that the White House and the Capital building wouldn’t look half as nice without their respective architectural nods to the ancients. Perhaps there is only one place where we can live without this Greco-Roman influence–our data centers.
Since most of you have spent more than a little time inside a data center, I think you’ll agree that their designers must be big fans of the ancients, particularly in the area of columns, since most facilities have more of them then the Parthenon. For example, columns are commonly found within most monolithic modular data halls. Because of the size of these sites, they serve a very important role—they hold the roof up. This make sense when you consider the fact that no one wants to see a few million dollars worth of servers and storage gear crushed beneath several tons of concrete and steel. Unfortunately, this architectural necessity can cause serious layout issues. In other words, columns get in the way. This is a particularly acute issue when you consider the fact that the trend toward greater data center flexibility continues to grow. At a time when on-floor layout options are at a premium, the possibility of stranding capacity due to the giant pole sitting amid your row of your high-density servers is an issue you’d probably choose to avoid. In short, while the Greeks may have loved them, the column is not your data center friend.
Along with their devotion to the column, our predecessors were big fans of large buildings. Our toga clad ancestors just liked to have a little elbow-room when attending a Gladiator match or bacchanalian festival. In terms of layout flexibility, I think this desire for usable space would make the limitations imposed by today’s pre-fabricated modular offerings about as useful to the average Greek as sandals were to Achilles. Featuring average dimensions of approximately 12’ x 40’ due to their needs to fit on a flatbed for transportation these solutions offer less then 500 square feet of space. Fine, perhaps, for the emperor’s box at the Coliseum, but not so much if you are trying to configure applications with load groups measured in anything over a few hundred kW.
Since, as ancient architects understood, in terms of layout flexibility, square footage isn’t necessarily all the same, it is important to understand the configuration of your prospective data center in advance. Understanding the physical features that can limit your layout options is essential when selecting a data center provider. This is one of those things that its better to identify upfront versus being unpleasantly surprised later on. Although the penalties for not understanding the impact of your data center’s design on your ability to support your applications aren’t as draconian as in the days of our Greek and Roman forefathers, they could make you wish you’d stayed awake during class.