The future of datacenters may be remotely located, naturally cooled, self-contained systems. Just like Castle Winterfell.

Winter is coming, finally 

HBO’s Game of Thrones has been so successful that, even though the show is more than a season away from completion, three separate spinoffs (yet to be named) have been announced. Technology in the world of George R.R. Martin moves even slower than the plot; the characters have essentially been trapped in the medieval period for thousands of years. And yet, the story of GOT is one of inevitable if gradual progress.

I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking: It’s time to start planning for Westeros’ digital infrastructure.

The engineer who plans the network must configure the router

Why not? True, Westeros is far away (and not real), yet it does seem to be heavily influenced by our world, and some of its inhabitants (like Bran Stark), seem to be capable of a mysterious telepathy that allows the future to influence the past. Perhaps there is a way that we can help their future datacenter engineers to learn from our mistakes.

One thing engineers in our timeline have learned the hard way is that you have to be careful about where you build your datacenter. One of the central considerations is temperature. Facebook has already started building datacenters near the Arctic circle, to keep the components cool more inexpensively. In such cases, some of the heat from the components is also used to keep the human workers comfortable.

The north remembers

Of course, not all datacenters can be built out in the middle of nowhere. The low-latency standards of 5G demand that a certain amount of compute power be moved downstream, away from the network core, and close to the end nodes whether the information is gathered. We previously wrote about the challenges of building datacenters in remote areas and old buildings. It can be done (and in many cases, it simply must be done), but it requires a creative approach.

Interestingly, a location exists in Westeros that offers a convenient confluence of these opportunities: Castle Winterfell. Located in “The North,” the climate around Winterfell is cold relative to most of the continent, even in summer. Yet it’s not so far north as to be cut off from civilization, which is to say, it can still be considered to be in the path of the internet backbone that will eventually be built in Westeros, with fiber-optic cables going to King’s Landing, Highgarden, and so forth. It’s south of The Wall, but not that far south, making it the obvious candidate for the northernmost major compute resource. Independent operations in the north (Wildling startups) will have to rely on Winterfell to stay connected to the rest of the world.

A den of data

More importantly, though, Winterfell has a physical feature that makes it particularly useful for infrastructure planning: it’s built on top of a hot spring. This allows the Starks (or whatever enemy is occupying their castle) to stay warm all year round. In a datacenter context, the operators might stay safely above the spring, with the components housed some distance away (in the kennels?). Perhaps, instead of human technicians, maintenance could be performed by small animals, naturally insulated by fur (magically static-free, of course), and telepathically controlled by a warg like Bran, who could sit comfortably in the castle, heated by the spring.

There is only one thing we say to inefficiency: not today

Actually, Ericsson has been working on something similar with future defined infrastructure (FDI), a conceptual datacenter prototype in which we explore the benefits of complete datacenter automation. We use robots instead of telepathically controlled animals, but it’s the same basic idea.

Writing about “Facebook’s cold, cold datacenter” in northern Sweden, 70 miles from the arctic circle, The Verge noted: “the most charitable description of the Luleå data center is "stark.”

Coincidence? I think not.

There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, and there must always be an Intel processor in an Ericsson server, one generation informing the next. Right now, that Stark is Sansa, and that chip is the Intel® Xeon® Scalable processor. That processor is a vital component in Ericsson’s Evolved Packet Gateway (EPG), our evolved packet core (EPC) product, with which we have achieved a throughput of 40Gbps per processor. Read our exclusive report.

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Michael Bennett Cohn
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Michael Bennett Cohn

Michael Bennett Cohn is a digital content expert with a wide range of experience in online publishing and advertising. He was head of digital product and revenue operations at Condé Nast, and he oversaw the digital ad campaign that launched the first Amazon Kindle. His journalism has been published by Newsweek, Mashable, and The Forward. He lives in Brooklyn.