VMworld 2017 Roundup: Day 5

The last (half) day of VMworld 2017 US. As always, it’s bitter-sweet. There’s no coverage of the General Session this morning as I was touring the Switch data centre here in Las Vegas instead.

Tour of the Switch Data Center, Las Vegas

This morning I was invited by a collection of companies to take a tour of the Switch data center here in Las Vegas. I joined a group of about 20 or so other invitees, who all boarded a shuttle from the Mandalay Bay convention center that would take us to the tour. As soon as we approached the complex it was clear that Switch takes their business seriously. The shuttle passed through a gated entrance to a loading area next to one of the Switch buildings, which surrounded by fencing about 10-12 feet high with a discouraging spiky top. Switch branded security staff (all of whom are highly skilled and trained former military folks) were on hand to guide us as soon as we stepped out of the shuttle.

The procedure for gaining entrance to the facility was fairly standard based on my previous data center experiences: DC staff hold on to your ID and give you a visitors badge, and you are then badged in through a formidable-looking full height turnstile. The entrance area and proceeding hallways were very nicely designed, from an aesthetic viewpoint. Coloured lighting, clean considered flooring, and clever designs made from the powder-coated cable trays and metal piping that’s used in areas of the DC itself.

The group was lead to an event room which consisted of tiered home-theatre style seating (plush reclining chairs linked into rows), with very modern A/V gear up front including a large projection screen. The various companies involved in arranging the tour, Evolve IP, HPE, Veeam and Ingram Micro, each gave us a brief overview of themselves before relinquishing the floor to a Switch rep, who provided information about their operation and fielded questions.

Switch’s Las Vegas facility was claimed to be one of the most advanced data centres in the country. It’s the west coast home for Switch (their east coast home is in Philadelphia). By square footage, it’s the largest data centre in the world, as about 2.2 million square feet, including building 11 which is not quite open yet (our tour was in building 7). Each building on the campus is about 300 thousand square feet (several football fields worth), and each is capable of dealing with 100 megawatts of power.

Due to innovations pioneered by Switch, and in fact designed by Rob Roy, the owner, who holds 350 claims and patents, Switch is able to reach higher density in their DCs compared to other providers. In fact, they can squeeze 38-42 kW per rack, and some clients are working on achieving about 60+ kW per rack. This is achievable chiefly due to Switch’s unique circulation and cooling system.

The air handlers, which are key to circulation and cooling, have been designed in a modular fashion so that they can be produced and integrated into the facility on-demand. Each air handler also has a weather station built-in, so that it can programatically decide which of six available modes it will run in based on current environmental conditions.

The data centres are built with catastrophe in mind. For example the walls are ballistics resilient to protect against possible projectiles from an explosion of some kind, or from war, or perhaps even a meteor strike. Due to this engineering approach, the Switch facilities have not contributed to a single second of customer impact over the 17 years they’ve been operating.

It was clear throughout the tour that a lot of thought and consideration has gone into the design and production of these facilities, and that same mindset is in place in dealing with it operationally as well. It was an impressive facility, and an impressive tour. Costs for leasing space in the facilities weren’t discussed, but I’d say it’s safe to say that if you can afford it, you can’t go wrong.

Dee Abson

Dee Abson is a technical architect from Alberta, Canada. He's been working in the field of technology for over 20 years and specializes in server and virtualization infrastructure. Working with VMware products since ESX 2, he holds several VMware certifications. He is a 9x VMware vExpert. You can find him on Twitter and Mastodon.

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