Lawyer Bait

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Site Selection - A Case Study?

I received a call from a friend of mine earlier today who called to ask if I had seen the data center requirement posted for the CIA. I had heard about it and got to thinking about what they would do to kick off the site selection process. Then I realized that if the requirements were posted, they must have done a lot of homework already. You would think anyway. So I thought I would brainstorm here on my blog and take you through my thought process. and then see how much of what I think about are in the posted requirements.

 I will qualify this blog post with a disclaimer - the only specs I know are that they want a 200,000 square foot facility built out in 40,000 square foot chunks/phases. I have not read any document or article related to it.

So when I look at the requirement as I understand it - my high level criteria would be:

1. Available inexpensive power, ideally with a green power source that is off grid
2. Available network connections to Government TIC (Trusted Internet Connection) sites
3. Proximity to US military bases to insure that staff can get to a facility if needed
4. Risk profile for natural disasters, man made disasters (civil unrest/planes into buildings, etc), financial condition of location States, geologic topography, and political risk.

So for #1, availability of cheap power and preference to a green power source that is off grid is in the top slot for a reason. Data centers number one expense is power, and data centers are typically operated for 15+ years. Virtualization, while reducing floor space actually increases density and draw of power for more powerful servers, and the power needs to be 'green' per the mandate by Vivek Kundra, the CIO for the United States.

To my knowledge there are two sites that COULD satisfy this requirement today - but it would take a signed contract to mobilze the funds and people to construct the power systems, and one would get knocked out of the running because of proximity to DC proper. A box of anthrax, or a suitcase dirty bomb with nuclear waste within 40 miles would make it 'inoperable' at least on the surface. So this isn't a data center requirment, it's a power plant with one customer - a data center.

On to #2, which deals with network connectivity, and not just in the general sense but specific to a TIC site. There are 100 of them in the US, so that limits things too if that is a dealbreaker - and it should be. Data needs to flow to the facility and out of the facility to provide credible intelligence to our Government and to other Governments friendly with the United States. Since we arent talking DSL pipes, these need to be 100GB pipes or better. Redundant too. This will be expensive since there is not a lot of fiber in the boonies - I know, I live in 'the boonies' (kind of).

Number 3 is important because in the event of some really bad shit going down on a major scale, people need to get in and out of the facility no matter what. The ability to use runways and other infrastructure specific to logistics is crucial. People can fly to a base and get choppered in, HUM-V'ed in or some combination of planes and automobiles. Sorry trains. There is also the 'able to sleep at night' piece having jets and Blackhawks able to scramble and be airborne in seconds to sanitize any threat if needed.

Number 4 should be a given, and arguably #1. When I think about Ashburn VA and the amount of data that is captured, processed and stored at the end of a runway is breathtaking oversight in my opinion. Knowing I can get mobile network reception on the approach to Dulles means that people bent on harming the United States and its citizens can do major harm sitting in Verizon's parking lot and pressing send. Katrina got everyone's attention with natural disasters on a major scale, but what about wildfires that close roads, burn telephone poles, and melt insulation around copper lines? Ice storms that make roads impassable and cause tree branches to cut power and telecommunication lines or the earthquake that hits and while the seismically engineered building hardly feels anything, the 60 miles of conduit housing telecom fiber gets severed by a bridge collapsing or ground shaking separation of the conduit itself? Topography needs to be factored in as well for redundant microwave links, sensors for all sorts of data needing to be captured, analyzed and used in making educated decisions?

I added a vector that has not been too much of an issue to date but one I think about - the financial condition of a State. I will use California as the example - the State is teetering on bankruptcy if you believe the mainstreet media outlets. The issue won't be whether or not the State can afford to keep the power plants operating, but the civil unrest that occurs when people get incredibly pissed off. Mobs like to burn things, flip over cars, and do other things that make no sense to me. Looting happens. If there is no water or electricity all kinds of crazy things can happen. Guess what? Data centers plan to have water and electricity no matter what, making them a target.

The point in all of this, is that before you even start touring facilities, virtualizing, seeing who is out there, and putting together requirements based on square feet and phases, you better have done your homework, or you - CIA data center - will be the next disaster to recover from.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pause for new thought stream

I was just reading the tweets from the Gartner DC event in Las Vegas and had a random thought to solicit feedback on:

Is the term managed storage really just data management with a new coat of paint?


Monday, December 6, 2010

Site Selection - Part Two of a Multipart Series - Modular = What changes?

First off thanks to all of you who reached out and sent comments on the first part of the series about how Site Selection is often overlooked. Some of the feedback inspired me to stretch this into a multipart series, and so now I will delve into another favorite topic I began writing about in April 2009  - modular and containerized options and  for the purposes of this entry, how they factor into a site selection.

Modular data centers from companies like Lee Technologies, in the US and BladeRoom based in the UK, are coming into their own and being deployed at a pretty good clip. I think data center people and investors alike are starting to get it as to why these options are compelling:

1. Cost. I can deploy a facility in a quarter for half the cost. That means that I get what I want whether it's density, footprint, speed of capacity, or operational efficiency for a lot less than a traditional data center Suite. As an owner operator it means I don't overbuild, I don't pay for a 100,000 square foot facility to be built and then wait until ten 10,000 sqaure foot rooms are sold. Cha-Ching all around

2. Speed. I can get them deployed quickly - usually in less time than it takes my broker to fly in a team to look at several facilities in several markets and tell me 'Stop me when you see something you like'. Thousands of cores, petabytes of space in 3 months. Me likey.

3. Consistency of product. Can anyone point me to a data center company that has the exact same layout, generator brand, UPS equipment, switchgear, masonry, or even layout in their facilities? Me either. Imagine the money and time saved supporting the same make and model of data center and its components? Modular solutions are the Southwest Airlines of the data center business. Southwest only flies Boeing 737's. Why? Because any pilot and flight crew can work on any plane in the fleet. Makes sense for data centers as well.

4. Simplicity. If I can get the same data center solution in multiple places from a single vendor with a single contract, with terms and conditions the same why wouldn't I make that my first choice? I have experienced first hand getting a phone call from a customer whose main reason for calling me was because we had a contract with them and they needed space fast and didnt have 6 weeks to work with a competitor to hammer out a different contract.

5. Logistics - How do you find an insured and bonded mover? There are millions of dollars invested in the cargo so you want to choose wisely. You will also need to pay attention to overpass/underpass heights since your solution will likely arrive by truck. You will also want to have an address, since many deliveries will be handled by out of state/non-local firms so giving directions to old barns or favorite fishing holes won't likely cut it.

6.Medium voltage electricians: Container/modular solutions by in large require more medium voltage electricians than low voltage so having local contractors with those skill sets are a factor. (Chicago has thousands, some remote areas may have 2). Also you will want to factor in the Unions and whether or not you are in a right to work or union state.
So all of this is great, but how does site selection tie into all of this?

Well modular solutions change the model for data center companies and companies looking to go modular.

For the data center company, it trips them up. Why? If you just paid $100M for a big 100,000 square foot building with no land and 5 mw of power, you could take a container or modular solution and gobble up that power footprint inside your building in a heartbeat, and still have 90,000 square feet of expensive building you can't do anything with until you spend millions more to get more power and have to wait 18 months to get it.  Or turn it into a raquetball court for employees I suppose. It impacts site selection for owner operators because they don't have to find big buildings to turn into data centers or build big buildings to chop up into computer rooms.

It also opens the door to a smarter model. One where they can buy land, do inexpensive improvements and pour concrete pads while they are working with the client to finish off the design of their facility. The data center is built, tested and shipped to the site where it is assembled in a couple of days and commisioned and ready for gear. The biggest issue is that there is no vendor that has emerged as a modular centric data center operator. X/O is the closest in supporting containers, but that's all I know of and the solution is far from complete. Today's owner operators will need to amortize their real estate and free up cash to make the switch and augment what they are doing, but that is a seismic shift in thinking, operations, and development, that I think a modular centric company would do better.

For end customers/tenants the site selection has been an issue for containers and modular solutions as well. Do we have land? Is it zoned? Is there power? Is it reliable? Is it in flight paths? Could a Waste Management dumpster truck get confused and pull our container away? How much is a generator? How many do we need? Can we even put diesel on site in a tank? Who will design the modular solution? What's a good UPS? Who understands power distribution and building codes? Where do we plug it in? Does it have a plug?

These are questions I have fielded or helped answer that past two years. many are funny today, but all legit.

Many companies who build and run their own facilities do have the people to figure it out, and Lee Technologies  and BladeRoom both have designers to help get it right. The issue is still - what makes a good site? Send an email to me at and I will send you my site selection guide which lays out all the questions you'll want to ask no matter which way you go.

Special thanks to Steve Manos at Lee Technologies for his contribution in this blog post. Steve can be reached at