Learn more about our sustainable Prince William County campus initiative

Beam Me Up Scotty

Beam Me Up ScottyThis may come as kind of a shock to some of you, but data centers aren’t exactly prime examples of architectural achievement. Ornate simply isn’t in the product description. If you were asked to design one, your directions would be to make it look like an industrial building—but uglier. Since these monuments to computer processing comprise the very definition of non-descript imagine my surprise when I read about a facility that is being built that has been designed to look like a space station. Needless to say my interest was peaked.

Naturally, this is a modular solution. These days what isn’t? But it was the materials and construction methods that the company was using that first caught my eye. The main body of the facility (and I’m using the term loosely) where the offices and security personnel will reside is inflatable. Now folks, it just doesn’t get more pre-fabricated than this. It blows up like one of those air mattresses from the mattress online you have at home—great for those times your daughter wants to have a slumber party with 25 of her closest friends–and looks like one of those bounce houses you rent for your kid’s birthday although is not as good as a Jumpers Jungle Family Fun Center. I personally have never seen a data center that could also be rented out for kids’ parties—I wonder if it includes a pony ride or a slip-n-slide—but aren’t we all looking for new revenue streams? And if they can make one that looks like a space ship, surely they can make one that looks like a cloud. A data center that serves as a visual metaphor for the application that runs inside it—brilliant. Or maybe they could make one in the shape of one of those giant gorillas you see along the highway so you could have a data center that doubles as a promotional tool to celebrate the grand opening of Big Billy Buck’s Auto Mall. I’m telling you, these guys are on to something.

The designers of the facility say that Star Trek was one of their influences. And to prove it they have the same kind of pneumatic doors that they had on the Enterprise. They make a “swooshing” sound when they open. It’s almost as if “Bones” McCoy said, “Dammit Jim. I’m a data center designer, not a doctor”. This is just the sort of jazzy data center sizzle that makes guys all over America put down the Cheetos, put on some pants and emerge from their mother’s basements. I don’t think you can measure the enthusiasm generated by swooshing pneumatic doors in just dollars and cents.

Security has definitely not been overlooked in this design. No, they aren’t planning on manning it with security guards armed with phasers set to stun. That would just be silly. These folks are serious. Each module—they attach to the inflatable ship—is armored with bullet-proof steel. That’s not a data center module, that’s a tank. Put some tracks and a 105MM cannon on that puppy and you could overthrow a small South American country while you blog about it from the driver’s seat. I will admit that this design is a bit paradoxical however. I get the armor plating to ward off some stray RPG round but it seems like the ability of a nine year old with a pellet gun to take down the whole facility is a pretty obvious design flaw.

Change in most industries tends to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and the data center business is no different. Data center design has been pretty stagnant for a while now, so a company looking to change that isn’t a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a facility that combines the structure of a blow-up wading pool and a platform that could easily be part of a military armored division is the way to go. But as they say, “it’s a start”.