In addition to fulfilling its mission statement (being the leading knowledge exchange for those who design, build, use and maintain mission critical enterprise information infrastructure in an effort to improve end-to-end reliability), 7x24 Exchange seeks to create a memorable conference experience for each attendee.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve attended 25 conferences and this Spring Conference was by far the most memorable.  In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I’m slightly biased as I have the honor and privilege of serving on the Board of Directors of 7x24 Exchange International.  I understand the planning, preparation and hard work that goes into each conference. 

That position also gives me a unique perspective about other conferences I’ve attended.  From the quality of presentations, to the catering and unique evening events, 7x24 Exchange delivers a lot of value for the price of admission.  One additional thought about these conferences is that the venue is NOT “Pay-To-Play.”  That is, every presentation is chosen on its merits whether or not the presenter is a sponsor and sponsorship plays no role in determining who, or what will be presented.

Maybe it’s because I had just finished reading the book, Apollo 13, but I found Jim Lovell’s Keynote address particularly poignant.  This man is a true American Hero!  Listening to him recount the incredible challenges that he, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert faced on that ill-fated mission of April 13, 1970 underscored the depth of his abilities as a leader, his degree of discipline and unwavering ability to concentrate and focus on the tasks at hand.  I was touched by his down to earth attitude; there isn’t a pretentious bone in this man’s body.  He’s probably told this story a thousand times, but it seemed as fresh as the first time it was recounted.

Moving on, Gordon Scherer (Data Center.BZ) and Peter Panfil (Emerson Power Network) gave a very interesting presentation on the unique, high-density design of Data Center.BZ’s facility in Columbus, Ohio.  Though somewhat diminutive in size, this facility is incredibly robust.  The 32,000 square feet of 36”-raised floor can accommodate 50kW cabinets in a constant configuration of 500 watts per square foot and up to 90kW cabinets in certain ultra-high-density zones.  There are a lot of clever features built in to the concurrently maintainable design (double 27’ clear roof), but what is really stunning is the low cost to build: $3,000,000 per MW, according to Gordon Scherer.  Gordon claims that this is due in part to the location in Ohio, but even still, there’s got to be some real magic how everything is being designed, bid and constructed to achieve that kind of pricing number.  Finally, Data Center.BZ would move toward water-cooling if it could in order to provide densities higher than 500 watts per square foot.

And speaking about water-cooling, Don Beatty and Roger Schmidt provided a very interesting review of ASHRAE Class Changes and how those changes are expanding the use of Chiller-less Data Centers as well as some other key developments.  They set the tone by quoting the data center mantra, which is to keep things calm and low risk by minimizing change.  The problem is that this conflicts with the notion of saving energy and continually seeking ways to operate more efficiently.   Of course, the ASHRAE temperature and humidity ranges have been expanding and in 2011 new, groundbreaking data was provided by a number of IT equipment OEMs to provide better guidance for greater energy efficiency.   One of the metrics quoted that made the biggest impression was that to cool 35° kW with a ΔT of 6.7°, it takes 2.7kW to cool that with air and 1.8 kW too cool it with water.  That’s a 33% reduction in power usage.  So, the question is, “Will end users, who have traditionally used air-cooling methods, be willing adopt liquid cooling when they have to overcome the common ‘no-liquids-near-my-servers’ mentality.

C. Alex Young, Ph.D. (NASA), gave a great presentation at the 7x24 Exchange 2011 Spring Conference about the effect of Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) and Space Weather on our Earth and, specifically, how these events and the Earth’s magnetic field are affected.  The ramifications can be extensive causing disruptions in navigation systems, military systems, satellite failures, civil aviation, electrical transformer damage as well as human health.

This year’s presentation given with Holly Gilbert, Ph.D. (NASA) and Ian O’Neill, Ph.D. (Discovery News), discussed the Myth and Reality of Global Disasters supposedly predicted as the 2012 Doomsday theoretical interpretation of the Mayan Calendar.  According to Young, Gilbert and O’Neill, the Mayans had many calendars, but their longest period calendar calculated a period of 5,126 years, which, coincidentally and for no other reason, ends on December 21, 2012.  This wasn’t a prediction for the end of the world, but rather a lack of the continuation of the calendar.  Whew, I’ll bet you’re relieved to read that!

Now, on the other hand, maybe the Mayans were really clairvoyant, foresaw that the Great Recession (depicted on the calendar by a man jumping off of a cliff) was leading to the end of the financial world as we know it on December 21, 2012.  The reason for this is that if you add up all of the numbers 12 (for December), plus 21, plus the individual integers of 2012, the resulting number is 38, which in Mayan culture is only divisible by the numbers 2 and 19, both of which symbolize death.  Not buying that?  Me either.  This theory goes along well with all of the other myths that our trio discussed including a number of interesting, but false theories.  Planet X was the suspected to be a brown dwarf star that was orbiting the outer Solar System.  As it turned out, the mass was an ultra-luminous galaxy in the distant neighborhood.  Nibiru was another type of Planet X interpreted from a 6,000-year old Sumerian cuneiform-text story claiming it to be the home of an alien race.  Cleverly, Nibiru is supposed to make a close encounter with the Earth on 12/21/2012.  Luckily, no one has spotted Nibiru, so we’re likely not in any danger.  My favorite story, very similar to the movies, Knowing and 2012, is that a massive CME will envelope the Earth killing all life and leaving a burned out cinder of a planet, or at best, cause a whole lot of calamity in the form of nasty meteorological events.  Fortunately for us, unless the Sun becomes a supernova, or a black hole, it can’t release enough energy to annihilate the Earth.

I spoke with a few people that didn’t understand the relevance of the presentation at a data center conference, but I guess I’m just fascinated by science, so to me, it definitely made sense from the perspective of having a broader knowledge of factors that may at some point have an influence or effect on our little niche.

My final thoughts are related to a panel discussion led by Dave Ohara (GreenM3) that included Tamara Budec, Vice President Critical Systems and Engineering Americas with Goldman Sachs, Amaya Souarez, Director, Strategy & Automation with Microsoft and Heather Marquez, Asset Manager – CEA with Facebook.  A few ideas struck me as I listened to this high-profile professionals talk about the ever-increasing importance of asset management.  As one would expect each person and company has a slightly different twist on this critical system.  However, all realize the value of asset management as a base methodology for capacity planning.  Of course, without measuring one’s assets, there’s no effective or accurate way to start predicting trend lines to meet future demands or to be able to control and direct refresh cycles in an organized and efficient manner.  These two motivations are critical to controlling costs and IT creep.