AOL Makes Fridge-Sized Outdoor Micro Data Centre

AOL has deployed a single-rack “micro data centre” in Virginia, as part of a plan to move to remotely-managed “lights-out” systems.

The black box is designed to operate efficiently in different climates without staff attending it, so AOL can reshape its its IT infrastructure to be lighter and more flexible, push its computing to the “edge” of the network, and reduce its energy bills. The first micro data centre was plugged in at Dulles Virginia on 5 July, and is part of a strategy called “Nibiru” after a mythical planet that is said to cross our solar system periodically causing disruption.

An umanned server box

“Our primary ‘Nibiru’ goal was to develop and deliver a data center environment without the need of a physical building.” said AOL Services ‘ CTO Michael Manos in a blog post.  “The environment needed to require as minimal amount of physical ‘touch’ as possible and allow us the ultimate flexibility in terms of how we delivered capacity for our products and services.”

Rack-sized processing units are not in themselves new. AST Modular makes them alongside conventional containerised data centres, and Elliptical Mobile Solutions makes a version on wheels for delivery to disaster zones.

AOL’s idea is to make itself independent from traditional data centre space. “That doesn’t mean we wont use them, it means we now have a choice,” said Moran. “It allows us to have an incredible amount [of] geo-distributed capacity at a very low cost point in terms of upfront capital and ongoing operational expense.  This is a huge game changer.”

Bite-sized, rack-at-a-time data centres would actually allow AOL to cut its physical footprint and its costs, said Moran: “The MicroData Center strategy built out with the latest, our most dense server standards and infrastructure would allow us to have 5X the amount of total [total compute capability] in less than 10 percent of the cost and physical footprint.”

AOL is also moving to makes its data centres operate independently. Manos announced an unmanned cloud data centre called ATC  in a blog post in November, but has not said where it is.

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Peter Judge

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

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