In a market of big data, big data centers, and big costs, alumnus Clint Poole’s idea may make a big impact on the industry.
Why do we spend a lot of money to power data centers — and then even more to reduce failures? Why not approach these cost issues from a different perspective and integrate the data center with its supply chain to increase performance, flexibility, reliability, and decrease costs? These questions are how Salt River Project’s (SRP’s) DataStation was born.
“I have worked in and around data centers for most of my career,” said Poole, who received his MBA in 2004 and his Master of Science in Information Management in 2012, both from W. P. Carey. “Coming to SRP, I was able to ask a lot of questions, such as ‘How is power delivered? and ‘Why isn’t there availability of sufficient power for the data center industry?’”
Data center challenges and the DataStation solution
A traditional data center is typically a sprawling facility. Some centers in Phoenix, for example, are 300,000 up to more than 500,000 square feet. They house a large group of networked computer servers typically used by organizations or businesses for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.
“The challenge with these large data centers is how to get reliable and affordable power,” said Poole. Data center companies spend upwards of 40 percent of the capital costs of construction on power reliability (generators and an uninterruptible power supply), he said. Poole thought there had to be a more efficient way.
“Those types of questions led me down a journey at SRP with a lot of support from executive management to figure out how I can better align my business unit — telecommunications — with our core business — power — and that’s where DataStation came,” he said.
The SRP DataStation is a scalable, quickly deployable modular data center that can connect directly to the grid near an SRP substation. The proprietary design ensures that power is delivered diversely, economically, and with unparalleled reliability, according to the SRP Telecom website.
To Poole, “DataStation both bridges the gap between SRP Telecom and SRP’s power business, as well as potentially transitions the traditional telecom business unit into a fully integrated information ecosystem and infrastructure provider.”
A data center’s core mission is the maximum availability of computing services, and its critical resource is power, he said. Poole decided to challenge the status quo and rethink the whole process.
“Why not take the compute to the grid, rather the grid to the compute?” he said.
Poole’s idea was to take the sophisticated infrastructure data centers use and simplify it by using small modules at the power source that are more energy efficient and can benefit from multiple, diverse, live energy sources.
“It makes so much common sense that people are amazed that they haven’t already been thinking about this,” he said.
SRP partners up for the data center project
Poole partnered with BASELAYER, a Valley company started by fellow ASU grads, to develop the DataStation module. The module is a rigid, steel structure with multiple physical layers of protection, Poole explained. There are five layers of physical security to protect the computer servers.
“We’re trying to make the data center into Legos,” he said. “So you can scale appropriately when the demand is there.”
The modular data center brings the real estate, construction, and maintenance costs down. The big savings, however, is the elimination of the complex, reliability infrastructure data centers have grown accustomed to using. The dollars per megawatt are significantly cheaper for DataStation, Poole said, and companies have the ability to add space and capacity as needed.
A cost-effective way to cool data centers
Keeping the servers cool in a data center is also important. Usually, a large data center will cool the entire building, using massive amounts of power to keep the temperature down.
“When you’re building out a data center, how much power are you wasting?” Poole said.
Poole’s partners at BASELAYER developed an innovative cooling system that only cools the individual server stacks instead of the entire building.
Poole explains it with a six-pack analogy. Instead of trying to cool a six pack of soda by turning down the air conditioning in a house, it makes more sense to put the six pack in the refrigerator, he said.
“It’s far more efficient to cool your six pack in the fridge than to cool your whole house to get there — and that’s the difference,” he explained.
A 2030 view into the future of data centers
Poole sees DataStation as the future of data centers. Brick-and-mortar buildings with expensive construction costs are not sustainable and have not lived up to the industry’s performance expectations for them, he said. “At some point in the near future, the growth and economics of data will be such that the sustainability of the traditional data center will be challenged.”
The need for data centers is growing, Poole said. Statistics show that data centers’ power consumption could reach 20 percent of the energy used in the United States by 2030. “Data centers are growing globally; we’re just barely scratching the surface of the information age,” he said.
Individuals and organizations are consuming an exponentially greater amount of information, and that information has to be processed and stored physically, which is increasing the demand for data centers.
The desert, SRP lures data centers
Arizona is an attractive home for data centers, Poole said. “Our market is unique. We have an incredibly low risk of natural disaster, low-priced power, and we have engaged utilities and municipalities.”
Poole, who manages SRP Telecom, said SRP offers power and water services, but it’s a little-known fact that the company also offers commercial telecommunications services and has one of the largest fiber optic networks in the greater Phoenix area.
“With the company’s fiber assets and now DataStation, SRP has a unique opportunity to combine distributed data center infrastructure with a diverse fiber optic network to create a wholesale information ecosystem with which companies can build flexible and scalable service platforms,” said Pool. “This could be a rare opportunity for businesses to redefine the term ‘cloud’ at a local level by leveraging an environment where utility computing can be combined with utility data transport.”
His team cut the ribbon on the first DataStation in 2015 and has been rigorously testing DataStation ever since. Poole said the DataStation combines the best of three industries, and feedback from the data center industry has been remarkable. Poole’s team has had requests for tours from some of the largest data center operators in the world, including the major cloud providers and even the Pentagon.
When asked about potential interest in the DataStation, the United States Air Force provided the following statement:
Given the Air Force’s focus on mission assurance, cyber security, lowering enterprise data center costs, and commitment to leveraging renewable energy sources like solar to the maximum extent possible, I visited SRP and BASELAYER’s DataStation (modular data center technology located physically on the power grid) a few months ago. As we work hard to consolidate and optimize our data center infrastructure, the Air Force is evaluating whether DataStation is a viable approach within our enterprise portfolio. Without a doubt, I see this approach as an excellent example of the type of innovation the Air Force needs, as well as the kind of public/private partnership required to modernize and better secure the Department of Defense’s data center infrastructure.
William J. Bender, Lt. Gen., U.S. Air Force Chief, Information Dominance and Chief Information Officer
Poole said his natural curiosity and passion for business and technology led him to think about a solution to the data center problem and come up with DataStation. He’s been able to see and do some remarkable things in his career, all thanks to his education, Poole said.
“As I reflect back on each period of my life when I was at W. P. Carey, it is incredible the amount of professional growth I experienced around those times.”
Poole said adding education to his experience helped in his career and performance. “The bottom line is that W.P. Carey changed my life and I’m a big fan,” he said.