The prospect of outsourcing servers and storage to the cloud has an irresistible lure of operational simplicity and cash efficiency for today’s application developers. Cloud computing vendors help operate social networking applications, micro-blogging sites, global gaming networks and a plethora of applications that we use everyday. Yet, as successful and economically desirable as clouds have been for many organizations, outsourcing servers and storage causes a serious emotional and operational dilemma for the hardened breed of systems administrators called server huggers.Everyone working in and around the Internet knows a server hugger. Server huggers relish spending time in air-conditioned data centers, sitting on raised floors under florescent lighting with a laptop connected to a console port of a server (or, if they are lucky, standing against a server rack using a dedicated terminal and a slide-out keyboard tray). They spend hours staring at command-line on a terminal and at notebooks of commands, passwords and IP addresses.
Server huggers like being near their servers -– they feel that the emotional well-being and efficient operation of their servers requires them to be physically close at all times. And while it may be easy to scoff at server huggers and their technical idiosyncrasies, it is this same breed of folks that keep the applications running on the Internet — we would all be grasping to master our social graph, unable to micro-blog to our abundant followers and forced to live in our real life without them.
But server huggers face an impending crisis — the data centers that host their servers in many large metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are increasingly filled. It is unfulfilling to hug a server that sits in a cardboard box because there is no rack space left in a data center, so server huggers have been scrambling to put their servers in geographically desirable locations that do not require new construction or an exorbitant budget.
And that got me thinking: Does the data center of the future look like a mobile home park? A mobile home park provides a place for you to park a single-wide or double-wide home and some basic utilities — power, roads, mail, etc. Yet, unlike seemingly every person on the Jerry Springer Show, servers do not operate well in mobile homes. However, as Microsoft, HP, Verari and others have shown, high density blade servers can be packed with hundreds of terabytes of storage, cooled and operated efficiently inside standard shipping containers. Maybe instead of more metropolitan data centers for the server huggers, we need container parks.
A container park would be on a plot of land within a metropolitan area (or on the immediate outskirts) and provide basic services to host containers filled with servers. Container parks could be located in spare lots close to power generation facilities, or be set up along a high-bandwidth fiber routes or even adjacent to a telecommunications facilities.
Compared to building, a top-tier data center that can cost $1,000 per square foot, setting up a container park could be done relatively cheaply — all is needed is a plot of land with the appropriate physical security, a power distribution plant, backup generators and abundant Internet connectivity. These items are available in metropolitan locations where server huggers and their employers congregate. While the containers themselves are self-contained, there should be no reason that multiple organizations and their server huggers could not share servers in a single container. After all, server huggers already share cabinets and cage space in data centers today.
So, will container parks soon emerge as the next bastion of the server hugger? Given the choice of moving their beloved servers to the cloud or hugging them in a nearby cool container down the street, the choice seems somewhat obvious.
Image courtesy of Verari.