Don’s Corner: “Ferrari vs. Datapod”

Posted by on July 11, 2012

Don Melchert, Critical Facility Specialist

While looking up alternate spark plugs for my old Ducati, I noticed that the ones I use were compatible with Ferrari. After my initial thought of, “Wow, that’s pretty cool!” my very next thought was, “I wonder what kind of data center they’re using to create such awesome, jaw-dropping, daydream inspiring machines?”

I’m back, sorry, I had to take a moment there for a quick run in my imaginary yellow Diablo and it’s so hard to park it and turn it off without revving the engine a few times.

Seriously though, everyone’s had that moment when you realize that, regardless of the item, it’s reached the end of its useful life and either needs a major overhaul or a replacement. For Ferrari, the decision to scrap and rebuild happens many times a year, as they build a completely new Formula One car from concept to racetrack in days. Back to point, here’s what I was able to find out about their “new-ish” data center, and it’s the disappointment I now have that’s fought it’s way out into becoming the topic of Don’s Corner this week.

“Ferrari is reserved about divulging technical details about the center, but it is of medium size — approximately 2,500 square feet in area, and loaded with about 60 racks of IBM, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard servers and tiered storage arrays. The power conversion (AC to DC) equipment consists of APC Symmetra PX 250-500 power supplies, Modular 3P PDUs, and InRow coolers. Both air and liquid cooling systems are utilized; the room itself was kept at about 23 degrees C. (about 72 degrees F.)” –, March 2009.

All that’s great, but I’m a CFS, I needed to see it! So, like any other intelligent human, I found myself scouring YouTube, where I found two videos from our good friends at APC. If you’re like me, you’ll want to see them too, so the videos are attached here. Go ahead, watch them back to back, at worst you’ll lose a few minutes of your time, but at a minimum, you’ll be able to have another conversation starter, right? Come back and I’ll tell you why I am so disappointed in the F1 Champ’s decision.

About half way through the first video, somewhere between the scene where there are three different trades trying to operate in the same room (before the raised floor was completed) and the scene where Mr. Calabrese is speaking in front of their new equipment, a single question jumped into mind, “Why, on earth, didn’t they simply use a Datapod?” I’m sure that if we asked Ferrari, they’d have many reasons why they didn’t, but I’ve got two reasons why they should have, and from what I’ve seen, it’s Time and Money that run the world.

Once you’ve mustered the courage to innovate, which for many companies is the hardest part, you’re now faced with the decision to retrofit an existing space, build a completely new facility or simply use a Datapod. If you’ve been through it before, a retrofit or new build can take a year (or longer, in America, it’s more like 18 months) to accomplish, with most of that time spent in the design and approvals phase. With a Datapod, everything’s modular in design, the key to its efficient deployment. Once Ferrari determined their power and cooling requirements, Datapod could have provided them a solution in days rather than weeks.

Ok, that covers the Time argument, but what about the all-important Euro? Other than minimizing the costs associated with paying inspectors and engineering firms to design a new building layout, can you imagine the number of man-hours that could have been saved using a pre-engineered Datapod solution?

Ferrari decided to put their data center in a historical building on campus, which makes sense, as it probably wasn’t being utilized. However, doing so required a massive retrofit before the aged building was suitable enough to house a high-density data center. Unless Ferrari already had tradesmen on staff, imagine how long it took to solicit, receive and evaluate competitive bids for the interior, let alone the new electrical service. With that on your mind, consider that a Datapod can be dropped on a relatively unimproved gravel lot. It’s that simple. Once the Utility Pod has been placed, the trucks show up, the containers roll off and are locked into place. Put another way, the Datapod solution reduces or outright eliminates invoices from all the service industry experts traditionally required when finding a home for your new network. That’s a lot of funds that could be used in R&D, ultimately used to win races this season, rather than waiting for a 20 year ROI.

Other than final testing, the power and cooling modules have already been pre-commissioned and are ready for use. What’s that, you don’t trust pre-commissioned items? That can’t be entirely true, as we have no problem plugging in a new refrigerator that has been assembled and pre-commissioned by the manufacturer. If we are willing to accept such things for our home, why not in the data center world? Is it because of the 24/7/365 requirements of today’s critical networks? Ok, I can understand that, but really, if this is the case, how many of us own a refrigerator in our kitchen that’s deployed N+1? Ask any one of the ravenous teenagers in my home and they’ll tell you, food is a serious requirement and the loss of a refrigerator would cause an immediate service disruption of outdoor chores!

Don’t get me wrong! Kudos should be given to Ferrari for, as I heard in the video, having “the courage to innovate.” The IT managers at Ferrari wanted to do bigger and better things and must have realized that you simply can not achieve new results by repeating the same mistakes, even if you do it in a new building. However, they could have saved Time and Money by going the containerized route, rather than brick and mortar. As with any other topic posted on Don’s Corner, I challenge you to look at the information objectively and you be the judge.

Just don’t let racing a Ferrari scare you, there are faster things out there. This time, it was a Datapod.

Learn more by clicking on this link to What Is Datapod?” Series Part I

Don Melchert

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