Conference Watch: How Do Japanese Operators Run Their Data Centers?

When I proposed a session on the subject of how Japanese operators run their data centers for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Data Center Energy Efficiency Summit, I did not know how many people might show up for it. We use a lot of products from Japan, but our information about Japan and the people there is scarce. Do you know what data center operators are doing in Japan, especially after the big quake in 2011 and the power shortage? Are US data center operators interested in such a subject? My worries were groundless. The room was packed, and as time passed, more people came in and many people were standing. Silicon Valley Power(SVP) sponsored the session, and they seemed to be satisfied with the outcome. You know it is very important to satisfy the sponsor! By the way, thank you, SVP, for sponsoring the session.

Atsushi Yamanaka of Japan Data Center Council (JDCC) talked about:

  • What happened to data centers at the time of the major earthquake in March 2011
  • What data centers are like a year and a half after the disaster

Atsushi Yamanaka

Atsushi and I teamed up in a session last June at a different data center conference, and I think he delivered his talk even better this time. London-educated, he is an excellent speaker. His profound data center knowledge, in both technologies and business, sounded very convincing in his British accent. And no wonder, because his day job is general manager at the president’s office at IDC Frontier.

I will not recap all of his talk here but some of the information I found most interesting:

  • Some rumors and hearsay about damages to data centers in Japan
  • Current data center trends in Japan

After the earthquake and tsunami, rumor had it that all the major data centers had been damaged or washed away by the tsunami. Also, radiation was believed to be so bad that people were running away from Tokyo. I have been to Japan probably more than ten times since the disaster, but in Tokyo it has been business as usual. There were a few signs of the power shortage in 2011, but in 2012 I no longer see them. But don’t take my word for it; listen to what Atsushi said. He told us that data centers are concentrated in Tokyo (70%), with 20% in Osaka and the remaining 10% scattered around. Tokyo is 140 miles from the damaged nuclear reactors in the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant, far enough not to have felt any impact. Yes, the shaking was tremendous and lasted longer (especially in high-rise buildings) than most people had experienced before. But all of the data centers in Tokyo were unscratched or had minor damage, like cracked floors.

Atsushi’s presentation included a video shot during the quake that showed a guy being shaken badly as he serviced one of the racks. But all the racks had been bolted to the floor, and none of them fell down.

Atsushi also said that energy efficiency was in the blood of the Japanese people before the quake, and now they are even more concerned with saving energy, including power. Many new data centers were developed with that in mind, including those at IDC’s Kitakyusyu site, Sakura net, and Nomura Research Institute. Modularity and air economizer are becoming norms in the construction of new data centers. Those who want to find out more can ask for more information at info at jdcc dot or dot jp (change “at” and “dot” with appropirate Internet formats).

The cost of power varies drastically by location in the US, so one of the important elements in siting a new data center is power cost. The price variance is very small throughout Japan, and power quality is probably pretty uniform. The reason for the 70% concentration of data centers in Tokyo is because the city is the nation’s center of business, politics, and academia. That is changing a little, but it can accelerate still more.

We were fortunate to have with us two additional members of the JDCC:

Atsushi and those guys compete daily but unite for the sake of the data center industry in Japan. They added some perspectives from traditional and large enterprises in Japan.

From left: Atsushi Yamanaka, Jun Sato, and Hideki Okita


The crowd at the session. After this photo was taken, more people came in, and the room was packed, with lots of people standing.


I do not remember all the questions the attendees asked, but a few stuck in my mind. Some wanted to know if the US (or Silicon Valley) is prepared for earthquakes. Hideki was polite but I am not. I do not think the Bay Area is ready. I think data centers here need more preparation.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG) indicated that they would like to invite the JDCC next year as well. OK, JDCC guys, next year you need to top what you just did!

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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