The Power of N

If you have been in or around data centers over the last 10 years, you have experienced the power of N. This single letter drives the architectural standards and design philosophies of the entire data center industry. There a lot of N’s in the data center industry -- N, 2N, N+1, N+2, and (2(N+1)).

Now RagingWire is introducing a new N called 2N+2. Why are we doing this? Well the other N’s didn’t measure up to the task of describing our patented critical infrastructure architecture.

What is N?
N is the amount of something you need in order to deliver a service or load. For an IT shop, N could be the number of servers you need to deliver a defined processing capacity. In a data center, N could be the number of UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies), generators, MSB (main switchboards) you need to deliver a power load. Of course in an N configuration, you need to hold constant the capacity of each element that makes up the N.

With N as your base, the next step is to identify the number of spare devices and complete backup units in your configuration. For example, let’s say you need 10 servers to run a cloud application. If you have a total of 14 interconnected servers with 10 production devices and four spare units, then you have an N+4 design. If you have two independent configurations of 10 servers each that can back each other up, then you have a 2N design.

N is a useful approach when describing the world of physical devices to deliver a certain capacity. The challenge is information technology and data centers are becoming increasing virtualized where pools of capacity are available and dynamically configurable. Devices still matter, but so does continuous monitoring and dynamic management of the capacity those devices deliver.

2N+2 Delivers 100% Availability
RagingWire’s patented 2N+2 design describes the physical devices, virtualized capacity, and PLCs (programmable logic controls) that enable us to deliver a data center with 100% availability even during maintenance periods and a utility outage.

We call the PLCs and integrated data center infrastructure management (DCIM) system, N-MatrixTM. With N-Matrix, we can combine our 2N power paths and N+2 critical infrastructure to deliver a 2N+2 data center – the most reliable data center design in the world.

The Power is Out – For 24,000 Others

Mylar BalloonOn Thursday, September 12, a power substation was ‘attacked’ by a mylar balloon and sent 24,000 homes and businesses into darkness in Sacramento. Who knows where the balloon came from or how long it has been floating in the sky before gracefully landing onto a power station and bringing most area businesses to a grinding halt. Most, except RagingWire.

I was in another RagingWire office building two blocks from our Sacramento data center campus when the utility power disruption occurred. Thankfully, with emergency lighting and an excellent iPhone flashlight app, the darkness was minimal. Upon walking to the parking lot in front of my office, I could hear the roar of RagingWire’s diesel generators across the business park. I wanted to experience operations at California’s largest multi-tenant data center during a utility power disruption, so I walked over to RagingWire’s data center facility. I didn’t know what to expect. People running around?  Worry? Stress?

I approached the building from the back, heading straight toward one of three massive generator rooms. I have not seen the generators ‘on’ yet, even though we run them every month for testing. Needless to say, it was loud, very loud, but the roar coming from the large Cummins engines was reassuring.

I entered the data center and walked throughout the facility – nothing was different. The humm of servers in customer cages could still be heard over the roar of the generators coming from the back of the building. I wondered if the customers working in their suites even knew the ‘outside world’ was without power, or if they even cared. It was calm on the data floor, calm in the power rooms, and calm in the NOC – a true testament to the architecture of this facility.

A day after the 11th anniversary of the attacks we suffered on 9/11, I believe we always think about the ‘big events’ that turn the power off or cause great damage to an area’s infrastructure. No matter how big or small an event, losing power to your company’s IT infrastructure can be devastating. Today it was a $6 mylar balloon that put a lot of businesses into the dark – except those who rely on RagingWire for their data center needs.

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Technology is great, but it’s all about the people

Often, when we take potential customers through our data centers and show them our patented technology, they remark at what incredible technology we have designed and implemented. My first response is always this: it is a result of the people we hire to design, build, and operate our data centers. My two priorities in anything we do are availability of the customer application and outstanding customer service. These are enabled by technology, but driven by people. As demonstrated by numerous studies in the data center industry and from my previous life in the nuclear industry, people remain and are still the leading cause of downtime in data centers (more on that in follow-on posts).

First, hire the right people and then give them the tools to succeed. One of the best things RagingWire has done is give our employees and our clients a clear definition of our data center design: "Fix one, break one, concurrent with a utility outage." In other words: we are designed for concurrent maintainability and fault tolerance during a utility outage, including power or water -- this philosophy resonates through RagingWire's design, construction, and operations groups, and even in our concurrent engineering sessions with our clients. The philosophy is driven by the people we have at RagingWire.

Many people in the industry have tried to treat the data center as commoditized real estate. It is unequivocally not real estate; it is a product which at the end of the day delivers availability of a service and an application to our customers. As people try to commoditize and treat data centers as real estate, they lose focus on availability and product delivery and therefore they outsource design, construction, and operations - driving down service and quality. Data centers, the product that we provide, and the availability of the service is not a commodity that can easily be white washed between providers. There is an amazing amount of technology and innovation being put into our data centers and the product is backed up by incredible people dedicated to the availability and uptime of that product.

RagingWire has made a conscious decision to hire and in-source the life cycle of the data center. We design what we build, we build what we design and we operate what we design and build. And we provide these resources to our customers to ensure that when they build out, their IT environment is as hardened and redundant as possible and that their hardware, network and application level architecture is designed in conjunction with our data center design. The people, enabled by the technology, are the cornerstone of how we accomplish this with our clients and provide 100% availability of their applications and services.

Whenever we search for potential technology vendors, RagingWire always interviews the provider’s team and makes an evaluation of the people behind the product. You can take the greatest technology in the world, place it in the wrong hands and end up with a product that no one wants. Similarly, the right people can make all of the difference, especially when given incredible technology and tools.

The next time you go to your data center, evaluate the technology, how they do business, and their availability record. Just as important, evaluate who is behind the product and the people that are ultimately going to be ensuring your critical application availability.

Why the City of Seattle’s Data Center Outage Last Weekend Matters

There are a lot of things that the City of Seattle did right in their management of last weekend’s data center outage to fix a faulty electrical bus bar. They kept their customers – the public – well informed as to the outage schedule, the applications affected, and the applications that were still online. Their critical facilities team completed the maintenance earlier than expected, and they kept their critical applications online (911 services, traffic signals, etc) throughout the maintenance period.

Seattle’s mayor, Mike McGinn, acknowledged in a press conference last week on the outage that the city’s current data center facility “is not the most reliable way for us to support the city’s operations.” Are you looking for a data center provider, especially one where you’ll never have to go on record with that statement? If so, here are a few take-aways:

A failure to plan is a plan to fail. While the city of Seattle planned to keep their emergency and safety services online, had they truly planned for the worst? I’m sure they had a backup plan if the maintenance took a turn for the worse, but did they consider the following: what if a second equipment fault occurs? Traditionally, the “uptime” of an application is defined as the amount of time that there is a live power feed provided to the equipment running that application. I would offer a new definition of “uptime” for mission critical applications: the time during which both a live power feed and an online, ready-to-failover redundant source of power is available to ensure zero interruptions. “Maintenance window” shouldn’t be part of your mission critical vocabulary. Which brings me to my next point . . .

Concurrent maintainability and infrastructure redundancy is key. I will go one step further – concurrent maintainability AND fault tolerance are key factors in keeping your IT applications online. The requirement to perform maintenance and sustain an equipment fault at the same time isn’t paranoia – it’s sound planning. Besides, a little paranoia is a good thing when we’re talking about applications like 911 services, payment processing applications, or other business-critical applications.

Location.  Location.  Location. The city of Seattle’s data center is located on the 26th story of a towering office building in downtown Seattle. The fact that they had to take down multiple applications in order to perform this maintenance implies that the electrical feed redundancy to their data center is somewhat limited. There are many competing factors in choosing data center location: risk profile, electrical feed, connectivity options, and natural hazard risk profile, to name a few. For mission critical applications, your location choice has to center on factors that will keep your systems online 100% of the time.

Flexibility and scalability give your IT department room to breathe. The city of Seattle leased out their single-floor data center space before the information economy really took hold. As a result, their solution is relatively inflexible when it comes to the allowable power density of their equipment. They’re quickly outgrowing their space and already looking for an alternate solution. Look for a data center provider that focuses on planning for high-paced increases in rack power draw – do they already have a plan for future cooling capacity? How much power has the facility contracted from the local utility?


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