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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.

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