What Will the Data Center of the Future Look Like?

The New York Times Magazine has an article on data centers -- the massive (though invisible to most users) computing infrastructure that runs our web searches, email, blogs, tweets. The article does a good job describing the architecture of current mega data centers and the challenges in building them. But what I missed in the story is: Where do we go from here. What will the data center of the future look like?

Spectrum tried to offer an answer to this very question early this year. In the February '09 article "Tech Titans Building Boom," by UC Berkeley professor Randy H. Katz, we presented an illustration (below) of what a 1 million server data center might look like. That vision -- a roofless facility with hundreds of server-packed shipping containers -- was based in part on Microsoft's Generation 4 data center design. But I'm still wondering: Is that the future of the cloud? A parking lot crammed with steel boxes?

True, there's been some innovation, including an underground data center in Sweden and Google's patented servers-on-a-barge idea. But I guess I was hoping for some real breakthrough in data center design -- a real departure in how these facilities are built and operate. Just to throw out an idea, what about a data center based on AS/RS (Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems)? Picture servers piled vertically into high enclosures with robotic arms that attach power/cooling/network connections and replace defective parts.

Have a wild vision for the data center of the future? Let us know. If it's good we might even run it in the magazine.  

million server data center

The Million-Server Data Center. See a larger version here.

Illustration: Bryan Christie Design

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