Here’s what caught my attention in the data world this week.
As a former Bostonian, I well remember the Big Dig: a project to sink the city’s Central Artery underground and add tunnels and a bridge to relieve traffic congestion. The effort consumed (not unpredictably) several years and billions of dollars more than originally projected. And by the time the dust cleared, traffic had increased so much that congestion was just as bad, if not worse, than when the project began.
As with Massachusetts and vehicles, so with government and data. Fittingly, the Boston Phoenix this week published a look at the challenge of government data.
Digital storage is not a natural resource. The amount of information that government agencies may be required to keep — from tweets and emails to tax histories — is growing faster than the capacity for storage.
While the Obama administration has made strides to address this situation by forming the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) in 2009 and appointing Vivek Kundra as Chief Information Officer, the need is so large as to remain overwhelming at the moment. From the same Phoenix article:
The United States Census Bureau alone maintains about 2560 terabytes of information — more data than is contained in all the academic libraries in America, and the equivalent of about 50 million four-door filing cabinets of text documents. In addition to the federal deluge, tens of thousands of municipal and state facilities maintain data ranging from driver’s-license pics to administrative e-mails — or at least they’re required to.
More and more, huge storage requirements meet staffing cuts and tight budgets in a complicated showdown. Many municipal governments have IT staffs of one or two people, if they have IT staffs at all.
This, of course, leads to a lot of outsourcing and privatization, which come with personnel and expertise benefits, but also security drawbacks. Will government digitization and data transport us into the future, or become another big dig against a rising tide?
This data was raised in a barn
Of course, privatization may save the day after all, if it can significantly lower the cost of data centers by saving power. That’s one goal of Microsoft’s new data center in Quincy, Wash.: it will use outside air for cooling (known as “air-side economizing”), and house the racks in a barn-like building that protects the servers from wind and rain but is otherwise “virtually transparent to ambient outdoor conditions.”
These new server farms will also make use of Microsoft’s IT Pre-Assembled Components (ITPACs), which allow for flexibility and scaling, and will help keep costs down even further.
Air-side economiser of the kind Red Rocks Data Center was using in Colorado.
Intel went on to publish a white paper on air economization as well as a Proof of Concept video in which they report lowering power costs by nearly 74 percent. Red Rocks Data has since closed, but first reported that during the coolest months of the year, “our savings are averaging about $1,600 a month on a $5,000 total bill.”
With or without a tractor shed, many more of these air-cooled data centers with a modular approach are likely to be built in the coming years. Microsoft expects to open others in Virginia and Iowa in 2011, and they likely will not be alone.
Maybe the White House should build itself a barn.
If you’re headed to Strata in a couple of weeks and find yourself in need of some anticipatory reading for the flight, download the recent Big Data reports from PricewaterhouseCoopers and NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts in the UK).
The NESTA report lays out some of the key concepts and threads from its November 2010 event, “The Power and Possibilities of Big Data.” You can also watch video from the event, which brought together folks like Hans Peter Brøndmo from Nokia, Haakon Overli from Dawn Capital, Max Jolly from dunnhumby, and Megan Smith from Google.
The PwC issue is aimed at CIOs and covers “the techniques behind low-cost distributed computing that have led companies to explore more of their data in new ways.” Several of these articles will be great background before heading off to Strata — hope to see you there!
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