September 13, 2013
Just when you think that you’ve seen everything, you, or at least I, read an article raising the thought provoking question, “Is the Future of Data Centers in Space?” Talk about your forward thinking. We recently finished building data centers in Nashville and Raleigh, and we’re pretty proud of it, and now here comes this article telling us that we might be way behind the data center delivery curve. I’m sure that we’re not alone in our feelings of developmental inadequacy. Even providers of those 1,000,000 square foot plus mega-datacenter sites have to be feeling a little foolish right now since I don’t think that rocket technology is part of their design and construction processes. If the future of the industry is in space, how in the heck do all of us respond to that?
First, and maybe most importantly, how do we characterize space as a market? In other words, if Denver is regarded as a Tier 2 market, what exactly is Pluto? Space may offer a lot of untapped potential, but if you are an industry analyst how are you going to quantify it? I suppose they’ll have to start with some of the basics that we all learned in elementary school science and extrapolate. Locating a site on Mercury is going to have obvious cooling issues, while outside air temperatures may have critical ramifications on Neptune. Personally, scouting the places out is going to raise some challenges. Since it’s estimated that it will take at least two years for a manned flight to reach our closest celestial neighbor, Mars, I guess they’ll just have to look at space as a market with ever expanding growth potential—do you have to factor in the Hubble constant when you’re trying to project server shipments to Jupiter in 2025? When is JLL-Mars or CBRE-Space going to open to help look for sites? Obviously, there are a lot of questions that are going to have to be answered before we can capitalize on this untapped market.
This expansion into the final frontier is also going to cause us to reevaluate some of our existing standards. Does the Uptime Institute even have a Tier for an interstellar facility, and how exactly do you harden your site against a meteor strike? I know a lot us have buildings that can withstand high winds and seismic activity, but a direct hit from an asteroid? Not so much. And how exactly are you going to calculate PUE on Venus?
Security is also going to be a big concern as we move into the intergalactic market. Since we’ve slashed NASA funding to the point that we can’t afford to launch anything into the wild blue yonder, you’re going to have to outsource this critical element of your extraterrestrial data center strategy. Do you really want to trust the Russians to launch the next home of your mission critical applications into geosynchronous orbit? I don’t think the average NDA is going to mean much in a country headed up by a former member of the KGB. I’ve read where the Chinese are making great strides in space exploration, so you could always use them as a fallback, but, isn’t this kind of like asking someone if they want to be poked in the eye with a broom handle or a sharp stick? They’re both going to hurt but one is going to hurt a little more.
Personally, I think all this talk about data centers in space is a little premature. Although I’m as excited about new markets as the next guy, I still think that we’ve got some ground to cover right here on earth. While thinking about the future is always interesting, I still think we’re more than a few years away from operating facilities in orbit that are maintained by robots who notify us of a network outage by saying, “Danger, Will Robinson”. “Open the pod by door, Hal” takes on a whole new meaning now. I mean what if Hal doesn’t let Dave in to swap out a bad motherboard? The allure of space is a constant in the development of man and I can certainly understand the desire to expand into new markets, but for now I think we’ll focus on the company that wants a data center in Salina, Kansas rather than one on Saturn.