Posts Tagged 'Generators'

October 8, 2014

An Insider’s Look at Our Data Centers

I’ve been with Softlayer over four years now. It’s been a journey that has taken me around the world—from Dallas to Singapore to Washington D.C, and back again. Along the way, I’ve met amazingly brilliant people who have helped me sharpen the tools in my ‘data center toolbox’ thus allowing me to enhance the customer experience by aiding and assisting in a complex compute environment.

I like to think of our data centers as masterpieces of elegant design. We currently have 14 of these works of art, with many more on the way. Here’s an insider’s look at the design:

Keeping It Cool
Our POD layouts have a raised floor system. The air conditioning units chill from the front bottom of the servers on the ‘cold rows’ passing through the servers on the ‘warm rows.’ The warm rows have ceiling vents to rapidly clear the warm air from the backs of the servers.

Jackets are recommended for this arctic environment.

Pumping up the POWER
Nothing is as important to us as keeping the lights on. Every data center has a three-tiered approach to keeping your servers and services on. Our first tier being street power. Each rack has two power strips to distribute the load and offer true redundancy for redundant servers and switches with the remote ability to power down an individual port on either power strip.

The second tier is our batter backup for each POD. This offers emergency response for seamless failover when street power is no more.

This leads to the third step in our model, generators. We have generators in place for a sustainable continuity of power until street power has returned. Check out the 2-megawatt diesel generator installation at the DAL05 data center here.

The Ultimate Social Network
Neither power nor cooling matter if you can’t connect to your server, which is where our proprietary networking topography comes to play. Each bare metal server and each virtual server resides in a rack that connects to three switches. Each of those switches connects to an aggregate switch for a row. The aggregate switch connects to a router.

The first switch, our private backend network, allows for SSL and VPN connectivity to manage your server. It also gives you the ability to have server-to-server communication without the bounds of bandwidth overages.

The second switch, our public network, provides pubic Internet access to your device, which is perfect for shopping, gaming, coding, or whatever you want to use it for. With 20TB of bandwidth coming standard for this network, the possibilities are endless.

The third and final switch, management, allows you to connect to the Intelligent Platform Management Interface that provides tools such as KVM/hardware monitoring/and even virtual CDs to install an image of your choosing! The cables to your devices from the switches are color-coded, port-number-to-rack-unit labeled, and masterfully arranged to maximize identification and airflow.

A Soft Place for Hardware
The heart and soul of our business is the computing hardware. We use enterprise grade hardware from the ground up. We offer our smallest offering of 1 core, 1GB RAM, 25GB HDD virtual servers, to one of our largest quad 10-core, 512GB RAM, multi 4TB HDD bare metal servers. With excellent hardware comes excellent options. There is almost always a path to improvement. Meaning, unless you already have the top of the line, you can always add more. Whether it be additional drive, RAM, or even processor.

I hope you enjoyed the view from the inside. If you want to see the data centers up close and personal, I am sorry to say, those are closed to the public. But you can take a virtual tour of some of our data centers via YouTube: AMS01 and DAL05

-Joshua Fox

November 8, 2011

PHIL's DC: SoftLayer Data Center Tour

When I was chosen by Lance to manage a "special project," I knew I had my work cut out for me. My mission is to redefine how data centers are built, so before I get too far in the creation of my data center facility, I thought it would be a good idea to get a quick refresher about how SoftLayer builds and runs its data centers:

You can disregard the references to Lance "requiring" me to go on the tour ... and the formality of Jon having to sign a note that said I successfully completed the tour. The references to those were just for dramatic effect since Lance and I are pretty much eye-to-eye about everything that needs to happen for PHIL's DC to succeed, and we both thought it would be good to have signed documentation that I went on a tour.

As I mentioned at the end of the tour, I didn't find the tour to be a complete waste of time because I was able to observe some of the biggest hurdles in building and maintaining a data center. Is redundancy really necessary ... or is it just redundant? What the heck did Jon say in the UPS room? How fast does a person have to run on a single treadmill for that treadmill to power 40,000 servers?

While I try to source my own "PHIL's DC" rack identifiers, my adoring public can take time to go through this video with a fine-toothed comb to suggest any potential data center innovations that you think I may have overlooked. I already have the most innovative and efficient data center designed in my head, but I'll consider crediting you if you share an idea ... even if (and by if, I mean "when") I've already thought of it.

I've got a hot lead on some slightly used hardware, so the next time you see me, the PHIL's DC inventory area should be fully stocked and ready for my own truck day.


February 21, 2011

Building a Data Center | Part 1: Follow the Flow

The electrical distribution system in a data center is an important concept that many IT professionals overlook. Understanding the basics of your electrical distribution system can save downtime and aid in troubleshooting power problems in your cabinets. It's easy to understand if you follow the flow.

As with many introductory lessons in electricity, I will use the analogy of a flowing river to help describe the flow of electricity in a data center. The river is akin to wires, the amount of water is the voltage and the speed the water moves is the current flow also known as amps. So, when looking at an electrical system, think about a flowing river and the paths that it must take to get to and from its source to the ocean.

External Power Sources
The preferred source of electrical power is delivered to a data center by the local utility company. Once that utility power enters the building, its first stop is usually going to be the ATS or Automatic Transfer Switch. This electro-mechanical device is fed power from two or more sources – a Primary and an Emergency. While the primary source is available, it sits happily and flows power to a series of distribution breakers, often called "switch gear." These large breakers are designed to carry hundreds or thousands of amps and pass that power to your uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units and other facility infrastructure: lighting, HVAC, fire life safety systems, etc.

If the Primary source becomes unavailable, the ATS triggers the emergency source. In our data center example, that means our on-site generators start up. It typically takes between 9 to 12 seconds for the generators to come up to speed to allow for full power generation. Once the ATS sees that the generators have started and are ready to supply power, it will switch the load from the primary source to the emergency source. This is called an open transition because the load is removed from the primary source during the switch to the emergency source.

UPS Units
Once the power leaves the ATS and switch gear, it is no longer important to know whether you are connected to the primary or emergency sources. The next step in the power flow is the UPS. Like a dam, the UPS system takes an untamed river and transforms it into something safe and usable: An uninterruptable source of power to your server cabinet.

This is achieved by a bank of batteries sized to support the IT load. The batteries are connected in-line with the supply and load, so while the ATS senses a utility outage and starts the emergency generators, the IT load is still supplied power. A typical UPS battery system is designed to support the IT load for a maximum of 10 minutes.

Another benefit of the UPS system is the ability to clean the incoming utility power. Normal utility power voltages vary wildly depending on what other loads the service is supplying. These voltage fluctuations are detrimental to power supplies in servers and can shorten their life spans or worse: destroy them. This is why most home computers have a surge suppressor to prevent power spikes from damaging your equipment. UPS units clean electrical power by converting utility power from AC to DC and back to AC again:


Power Distribution Units
After protecting and cleaning the power, the UPS power will flow to a group of power distribution units (PDUs). At this point, the voltage will normally be 480vac which is too high for most IT equipment. The PDU or a separate transformer has to to convert the 480 volts to a more usable voltage like 120vac or 277vac. Once the voltage is converted, the power is then distributed to electrical outlets via a common electrical breaker.

PDU technology has advanced, like all data center equipment, from simple breaker panels to complex devices capable of measuring IT loads, load balancing, alarm and fault monitoring and even automatic switching between two power sources instantly during an outage.

Power Strip
The final piece of equipment in the data center electrical system before your server is a power strip. Power strips are often mistakenly referred to as PDUs. The power strip is mounted in a cabinet and contains multiple electrical outlets, not electrical breakers. You plug the server power cord into the power strip, not the PDU. And from here, the flow of electricity finally reaches the sea of servers.

Here's a basic for a data center electrical distribution system:

Simplified Data Center Power Architecture

Our data centers are complex, and the entire building infrastructure is critical to its continuous operation. The electrical distribution system is at the heart of any critical facility, and it's vital that everyone working in and around critical sites knows at least the basics of your electrical distribution system.

In Part 2 of our "Building a Data Center" series, we'll cover how we keep the facility cool.


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