AOL building refrigerator-sized data centers

nibiru

Updated: AOL is taking its flexible infrastructure strategy to a whole new level of flexibility by building data centers about the size of French door refrigerators. AOL Services CTO Mike Manos wrote about the units — part of a project code-named “Nibiru” internally — in his blog on Thursday, proclaiming July 4 (the day the first one arrived) AOL’s Data Center Independence Day. If they work as planned, AOL will be able to deploy new services and infrastructure when and where needed with little more than an electrical outlet required.

The Nibiru project, he explains, is a set of “incredibly game-changing” goals for transforming the way AOL’s services division carries out the work of managing the company’s infrastructure, and the newly materialized mini data centers we’re high on the list:

Our primary “Nibiru” goal was to develop and deliver a data center environment without the need of a physical building. The environment needed to require as minimal amount of physical “touch” as possible and allow us the ultimate flexibility in terms of how we delivered capacity for our products and services. We called this effort the Micro Data Center. If you think about the amount of things that need to change to evolve to this type of strategy it’s a bit mind-boggling.

Among those changes, Manos writes, are capabilities such as being able to deploy infrastructure wherever it’s needed regardless of temperature and humidity, and the “ability to fit into the power envelope of a normal office building.” The units will also be part of AOL’s automated cloud computing infrastructure, which means they’re managed as part of a greater pool of resources without the need for dedicated staff.

But these mini data centers aren’t just about a cool operations project; they could end up paying big dividends for AOL’s business lines, as well. Not only can AOL save money by taking up less space and power within a traditional colocation facility — if it decides to place a Nibiru box in such a facility at all — but the box gives AOL the flexibility to move into new geographies with ease. Among the benefits Manos points to are:

  • It allows us an incredibly flexible platform for driving and addressing privacy laws, regulatory oversight, and other such concerns allowing us to respond rapidly.
  • Gives us the ability to drive Edge Computing delivery to potentially bypass CDNs for certain content.
  • Gives us the capability to drive ‘Community-in-a-box’ whereby we can quickly launch new products in markets, quickly expand existing footprints like Patch in a low cost, but still hyper-local platform, allow the Huffington Post a platform to rapidly partner and enter new markets with minimal cost turn ups.

Containers atop eBay’s Project Mercury data center in Phoenix.

AOL’s new boxes might be about the smallest data-center-in-a-box units around, but they’re actually part of a great move toward modular data centers across companies of all types. As I reported in April, eBay is buying custom-built containers full of thousands of servers that it can drop into (or on top of) its data centers as capacity dictates. IO Data Centers has built an entire business around modular data centers that can sit just about anywhere.

Update: AOL’s micro data centers were built by Elliptical Mobile Solutions, according to a spokesperson for that company. It has also built units, which it calls micr0-modular data centers, for NATO, the U.S. government and the Canadian Department of Defense.

All these efforts share the same goal of letting companies grow their server count when and where needed rather than trying to predict necessary capacity and relevant geographical locations years in advance.

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