Las Vegas, the safest place on earth … for your data

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One of the nice benefits of traveling full time to all types of IT conferences is that I get to meet the most amazing people in the industry. With that I also get access on a daily base to best of bread solutions I would never have seen, or at least not at first hand, staying in the office in lovely Belgium. This week I had the honor to get a private tour through Switch SuperNap in Las Vegas by Missy Young, EVP of Colocation.

Truth in Technology
The first thing we talked about is “Truth in Technology”. A major differentiator between Switch and any other organization is that they sell the truth. No-one at switch get’s paid on volume of sales and products, neither does Switch use marketing budgets. Switch sells itself through word-of-mouth. Switch has it’s own team of cloud consultants that bring all the necessary vendors at the table for each part of a customers needs. This means that for example Cisco UCS could be used as the compute platform but Juniper would be the Firewall because that model fits best for that specific customer (this was a real example!).
What Switch doesn’t do is building their own solutions. All the major players in the market are already in-house at Switch (shortlist at the end) so the only thing they need to do is bringing the right players at the table. When I say all major players I am not kidding: Even the HP Cloud runs here.

Another nice aspect of Switch is that they support technology startups in their innovation center. One day not that long ago, Switch also was a small startup so helping others in this dry desert is a good thing to do! It’s a small Silicon Valley on it’s own.

Switch SuperNap unique datacenter
SuperNap8 is in effect the biggest and safest datacenter in the whole world. I will cover both aspects in detail below. Another important detail about Switch is that The CEO, Rob Roy is actually more an inventor than a CEO. This guy fits in line wth Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. That might be the first and foremost reason there is no CTO here 😀

Every aspect of Switch SuperNap has been invented by Rob Roy. A very important one for example is the air conditioning. Nine out of ten data centers are designed on raised floors where cold air is pushed up. What people sometimes tend to forget is that cold air falls instead of rises! So it makes absolutely no sense to push cold air up from under the ground. So what Switch does is flowing cold air from the top through cold alleys and suck out the air through the hot alleys. This is pretty smart. The result is that the whole building rests directly on a concrete floor, allowing any heavy gear to come in.

The patented cooling system is actually using all 4 types of air conditioning; DX – Direct Expansion, Direct Evaporative, Indirect Evaporative and Chilled Water. Or even, most of the time, just outside air, according to the conditions of the environment.

Switch SuperNap 7 is the biggest
You will hear many data centers marketing their size in square feet. At first this looks like the best measurement to use. However, a lot of these data centers are limited by another parameter: power. Switch SuperNap 7 on its own has no less than 100 MegaWatts! And that is only #7. If you count together #1 > #8 there is no less than 500 MegaWatt to sell here. In fact, SuperNap 8 that has very recently been taken in production is expected to sell out in less than 18 months.

And the ground for #9 has already been broken. Just around the corner and it takes 2 minutes to drive from the beginning to the end of the lot. When I asked how long it will take to build that datacenter I got the amazing answer that it only takes 10 months to build the whole datacenter from slab to finish. All the building blocks are modular, custom made for Switch in Vegas. This will be one of the reasons Switch will be able to expand their IP to other countries around the world.

Now one of the problems you get when you put so much power in such a small place is that you can’t serve all that power to completely filled racks because of the air conditioning and that’s why data center capacity mostly is (badly) calculated in square feet rather than compute capacity. Ask any data center to give you 20 racks next to each other filled with blade systems and they will all refuse. You will probably get limitations to around 10/12 KWatt per rack. This is because of the temperature difference between front and back of the rack and they are not able to handle that. Switch challenges you to put as much as you want in there ’cause they’re not even close to their limits! The biggest one in there now is a Dell Scorpion deployment sucking up 35 KWatts per rack.
*note: DELL Scorpion is a Custom Based Dell blade solution to get as much power as possible in a single rack. The reuslt of that was the Zues (C8000) project for “smaller” use cases.

Las Vegas is the safest place on earth
Everyone hears all these natural disasters going on around the States or other places in the world. What many don’t know is that Las Vegas (Southern Nevada more in particular) has NO HISTORY OF NATURAL DISASTERS! This is amazing. This fact alone makes this one of the safest places on earth.

All this together made the state decide that Switch got level 2 protection, right after the hoover dam. What this means in real life is that nothing will be allowed to have this datacenter to go down. If ever something would happen in Vegas, Switch will be the first to get fuel to keep the datacenter running. It goes even further: Switch has the power to get what they need, all methods allowed. If you enter the grounds of Switch you’ll see army style hummers riding around and every single security guard is armed and a former military member that must have had combat experience! They also have all supplies on-site to live in this datacenter for more than a year. If ever the zombie apocalypse becomes reality, I know where to hide! 😀

All joking aside, a few of the results of having the safest place in the world: Switch SuperNap is the ONLY datacenter where online gaming is legalised by the Nevada Gaming Commission

UPDATE: inspired by this blogpost I wrote Are you a Cloud paranoia? where I challenge our thinking of using the remote datacenter as a DR location.

The power of the masses
Giving the fact that this datacenter has the biggest capacity and is the safest one on the planet, I already mentioned all the big players use SuperNap at their base for 100% SLA level. Because of having all the big players on-site they can also buy everything together. APC for example builds OEM racks specifically designed for Switch and delivers them by hundreds at a time.

Another example is networking. There are no less than 32 major connection providers delivering physical fiber to Switch. Together the prices are dropped so far that you can easily get a 10GB pipe from California to Las Vegas. Some of the biggest movie companies for example have moved their movie rendering systems to Vegas to get it away from earthquake California. By doing this they save money on connectivity buy buying together but also on the big insurance contracts they needed before.

The list

  • VMware Pivotal / CloudFoundry
  • EBAY / PayPal
  • Yandex (Russian Google)
  • HP Cloud / HP Autonomy
  • Nirvanix / Joyent / …
  • The Venetian / The Wynn / …
  • MGM Media / Fox Television / …
  • Vimeo
  • Sony
  • Dreamworks

I think you get where I am going here 😀

My Take

I see a lot of growing industry trends so I don’t get that much mind blown by 100 racks crunching analytics on your EBAY data. What does blow my mind is that if you go back to the drawing board from time to time you find ways to do things different and well. That whole redesign of the air-conditioning has a big non-geek result. It’s actually enjoyable walking through, talking to each other or even working for hours straight in this datacenter. That was the one thing that blew my mind away here. I have been in tons of data centers, small and big, where the noise and temperature was unbearable to work in for longer than 10 minutes. There are actually desks between the racks where people are working full time! If ever they build one in Belgium … I’ll be applying for a job 😀

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