Sweden is good at recycling. So good, in fact, that only 1 percent of the country’s waste ends up in a landfill. Interestingly, Sweden’s efficient use of waste is a good analog for various efficiencies of a hyperscale datacenter.
Sweden actually has more waste processing facilities than it needs, given its own waste output. So some other countries export their household waste to Sweden, where it gets incinerated. Similarly, a datacenter using software-defined infrastructure (SDI) makes its resources available for whatever process might need them. Suppose that, instead, those incinerators only burned Swedish trash, and when there wasn’t any to burn, they sat unused. That would be like a more old-fashioned, performance-oriented datacenter with a hardware-defined infrastructure, with resources exclusively devoted to specific processes, whether those processes were active or not.
Recycling as a metaphor for datacenter efficiency
The process of Swedish incinerating plants burning waste from other countries is also reminiscent of the way virtual performance-optimized datacenters (vPODs) work. With vPODs, borders are defined by need, not by proprietary access to a given piece of equipment. So, just as a certain country (for example, England) might need to make use of another country’s waste disposal technology, one datacenter client might need some resources (say, a group of CPUs, NICs and DIMMs) that are typically associated with another client, but are not being used by that client at the moment.
The vPOD’s boundaries are flexible; they change so that each client has accesses to exactly the resources they need at any given time. Unused resources are returned to a virtual pool, where they wait until they can again be of service.
In fact, recycling itself is a good metaphor for datacenter efficiency. It’s all about preventing resource waste: converting one thing into another thing as needed. The same principle applies, whether it’s household waste being converted to energy, or a CPU that, a few seconds ago, was being used to query a database, and is now being used to stream video.
Recycling as a service
Sweden provides waste disposal “as a service,” a concept that is native to the cloud. Let’s call it waste disposal as a service (WDaaS), which is comparable to software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). In every case, the service, as seen from the client’s perspective, is a “black box,” in which the details of the operation don’t matter. One nation has more waste than they can handle; another nation takes it from them, and handles all aspects of the disposal on their end.
Similarly, an enterprise might not want to build their own customer relations management (CRM) system. So they outsource to a company like Salesforce. Salesforce provides the enterprise with a web interface to handle their CRM needs. Everything else, the users don’t need to see: It’s handled by Salesforce on the back end, in the cloud: Software as a service in action.
Climate control with excess heat and cold air
Sweden uses some of the waste to heat its homes. This ingenious use what’s available for climate control is reminiscent of the way Facebook controls the climate of its datacenter in central Oregon: cold air comes from outside the building to cool the equipment. Excess heat from the equipment is used to warm up the office space.
Facebook's innovation in datacenter design helped bring about the Open Compute Project, raising the standards for datacenter efficiency across the industry and around the world.
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And if you want to explore the concept of vPODs in more depth, please read our new paper on how vPODs make you both agile and lean.
Background photo by Deirdre Straughan