Sunday, August 06, 2006

No Room Today

Baltimore Sun has an exclusive story titled "NSA risking electrical overload". It basically says that the NSA HeadQuarters has problems when installing a new computer grid because of its needs in power. Baltimore's power grid is dangerously becoming insufficient for NSA's needs. The situation is fragile. As a result, they have elevated the building's temperature by two degrees in order to save electricity. I bet they also monitor big projects in the city like a new mall to make sure the grid doesn't fail under high demand. The implications of a power failure may be worse that those expected by the Y2K bug, according to a slashdot columnist. So what then? Build a Nuclear Plant? And in another 5 years? Build another one? And another one?

This has reminded me a talk with a collegue of mine about Google. He had said to me that the Google main facility was to its limits in terms of space. "They can't add any more computers in their grid". Of course there are Farms all around the globe caching and splitting the total load of requests but what these farms do is mirror the original grid in California. "They isn't any room left even for a tech guy to walk in there and change a burned CPU". It was amazing. He also claimed Google had an overheating problem. Too many machines in a limited space produce so much heat that the equipment itself is a risk. According to him, they had brought experts on air flow and cooling to come up with a solution. Bottomline, it is a deadlock. All computers must be in one place, one building, one room and there isn't any room left. They could start building a second huge facility but how whould they move out the computers? And how much would that take?

As you can see both NSA and Google face similar problems. Too many computers in one place. The first has power shortage problems, the second heat emission ones. This kind of facility has no future.

I am currently studying Distributed Computer Systems, that is having many computers working as one, sharing big loads of data and/or processing demands over a network. The systems don't have to be physicaly next to each other or in the same room, city, country or continent :P

You may have heard some big DCS projects like @Home (SETI, Folding, etc). These projects put to use the idle CPU time from millions of computers around the globe to examine data that would otherwise take years to produce results. They form huge supercomputers that will never fail (even if a computer or group of computers is down the grid will go on) and won't be limited by physical resources (space, power, air). A computer may be added to this grid at run time and may be as easily removed.

DCS is a thought out of the box. Maybe too smart for those corporate suites?

Anyhow, it's about time they change strategy and start planning right now and then, maybe in a decade or so, they'll make the transition. Else, they won't be able to stay on the feet.

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