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Trip Report: Cisco Data Center, Allen Texas

Zen and the Art of the Data Center

I love data centers. I always have. From my mainframe days to now, building out a data center is a true test of forethought and collaboration with many groups of folks. The Cisco Data Center folks opened up the doors to the shiny new data center they completed in Allen Texas. Of course I jumped at the chance to be that close to some great beef BBQ and binary bits. I'll be honest with y'all, here's what I expected to find; A refitted building with man traps, solar panels (for the green tax credit), no signage on the front and VBlock pods all over the place. In my initial shot list that I turned into our producer Steve, that is what it looked like. Yeah, I was way off. Way off like the Planet formally known as Pluto is to Mercury. First off, this building is purposely designed from the ground up to be a data center. That is a different animal these days with industrial real estate being so cheap and many data centers going with "shipping crate" pod designs, a dedicated building is about as rare as Tesla-Beaton Prototype in Fallout New Vegas. Truthfully, it's not the gear that steals the show here, but the facilities themselves. Let me dig into that a bit. This DC is in Texas. You know mega hot, high winds with bugs as big as a Volkswagen; Texas. (But some of the coolest laid back folks on Planet Earth!) You'd think that air conditioning alone would cost more then Trump's comb over weave. This DC takes advantage of the high winds by using natural air side economizers to cool the data halls. With ASHRAE raising the DC temp from 65 to 78 degrees, this DC can use natural Texan air 65% of the time in an open loop fashion. This system can pump up to 1.25 Million CFM and they can switch to closed loop chilled when needed. By the way, even the closed loop system is chemical free. I know the filtering system works great because I farted in a economizer and it was gone in a flash! The air contamination alarm went off...but I just wrote that off as calibration testing... The roof is totally sealed off in a thick white plastic to keep water from coming though. The roof itself is a huge multi-layer slab design to withstand tornado force winds. It is actually multi-cross anchored to the building itself which is peered all the way down to the bedrock. Of course the windows are the hurricane force Dade County rated multi-pane windows that I just bet could withstand a SM2 missile launch for a Aegis class Destroyer. Inside, the halls are wide and truthfully it looks like a DC the Umbrella Corporation would have in RE! For us engineer types, the data center build out rooms are right next to the actual data halls! So now when gear is built out, just open a door and wheel 'er in! Another thing about the data halls that caught me off guard was the only fire suppression is water. Of course they are a N2 filled dry pipe, but water? The design crew said that Texas code requires water in ALL buildings so FM-200 and Inergen would just be a waste. Of course the system uses the two key method to keep a pissed off employee from creating a indoor swimming pool. A manual alarm and a heat/smolder detector before water generates a bunch of replacement gear purchase orders. A few other awesome things here: - No raised floors - Individual heat flues for each rack - Equipment fans are good enough to pull cold air into gear. No forced air - Unbelievable attention to detail for labeling/color coding everything; cables, pipes, directions, plenums, etc. A total rookie off the street could walk into ANY place in the DC and know the flow and order of things - 480 volts to data hall cuts amperage in half - Fully redundant DC with another one in Richardson across a fully N+1 DWDM ring - Even the plants they used were done with the help of Texas horticulturalist to make sure they used native plants. There is so much to write about here! I'll save this last part for the generators. I am an old motor dude from way back of trashing motors in my various cars drag racing. The turbo diesel generators here are certainly huge as you would expect but the real magic is the flywheel system. Every line voltage has spikes and troughs in voltage. This will really trash out gear fast and cause weird "gremlins" all over the network. Most DCs use batteries to augment these drops. As any DC admin will tell you, batteries suck worse then taking your talkative in-laws fishing. The sick and demented minds at Cisco know this also. So they have an ingenious flywheel system that continually spins up the flywheel. When a voltage drop happens the kinetic energy stored in the flywheel drives a generator and that levels out the voltage. Plus if the generator fails to start, they can engage the electro-magnetic clutch and use the flywheel to start the turbo diesels. No batteries! The Cisco Folks that run the DC are as proud of it as Texas is about Sam Houston! They are actually getting ready for their grand opening and a few members of Congress are actually coming. Which I think must be like trying to explain the ending of Battlestar Galactica to your Grandmother..."I support these blinky light thingys blinking." All kidding aside, this DC is really something else. It looks great and really is designed to work in true harmony with the environment. I have been to hundreds of DCs all over the world and this is hands down the best one I have ever seen by a long shot. Cisco will let customers tour it so start pounding on your sales rep to get you in! Plus it's close to some great places to eat with some excellent local beer! Jimmy Ray Purser Trivia File Transfer Protocol The statue of Sam Houston is the largest free-standing statue of an American

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