eBay’s Galaxy Project: Scalable Low PUE Data Center Design (Background and Business Drivers)

I have heard Dean Nelson talk several times in the past. When I first met him a few years ago, he was telling me he was so excited about what he was doing that he did not mind sleeping only a few hours.

Once, he arrived five minutes before his speaking engagement and delivered a good talk. He had just come home an hour before from India and sped from the airport to the conference site. I often go back and forth between the US and Japan, but I need at least a week to recover from jet lag. On the day I get back from Japan, I am completely beat and cannot do any meaningful work.

Dean delivers his talks well. Over the years, his speeches have become even better. He talks from his experience and gives really concrete examples. He must be one of the best speakers in the data center area, with charisma and a strong aura of persuasion. And I must add he is entertaining. Cloud computing, mobile computing, sensor networking, e-commerce, and others combined demand high density yet energy efficient data centers. There are many good speakers in each of these fields, but I think Dean is one of the few who can speak about all of them in context.

Deal Nelson

He started with the need for high density data centers at eBay. I talked about my experience with iPhone awhile back.

If I did not have my iPhone, my reaction would have been different. People say that mobile computing, along with cloud computing and sensor networking, will increase Internet traffic substantially. Well, no one will disagree with that statement, but I cannot put my arms around that just yet, because I have a hard time finding real examples that are close to me or that I can relate to. I can draw an image of a vast number of mobile phones and other devices and a variety of sensors sending and receiving data constantly, but it is still theoretical.

Dean started with an example of a car sale on his eBay site. I must confess that I do not participate in any auction, whether online or offline. Maybe if I did, I would relate to his example even better. In any event, one of their users bought a high-priced car via eBay using an iPhone. I was sucked into the presentation, and so were other people in the audience. Some of his slides are available here. Also, a case study report is available from the Green Grid site.

He is used to how people buy expensive stuff on eBay, but this shocked even him. Yes, I am shocked as well. To start with, I do not have that kind of money for a car. Secondly, I am worried about the security of the eBay site (sorry, Dean, nothing personal; I am a very skeptical guy) and my iPhone security (sorry Apple, nothing personal, either). Either this guy has tons of money to lose or is a strong believer in e-commerce and its underlying technologies.

Well, maybe this guy is a very, very different kind of guy and an exception in doing e-commerce via mobile computing. In the next slide, Dean showed that this guy was an exception back in 2008 but not now or in the future. The next graph showed how people are changing their commerce behavior.

The figure partially hidden by a leaf for 2013 is 10T. One trillion is 1,000 billion.

“Web-influenced offline” means the actual purchase happens at a store, but before going to the store, a consumer researches online to decide which products to purchase. I think the online commerce trend will continue, but I do not think all the brick-and-mortar stores will be completely replaced by online shopping. There are some things people still want to see and touch before buying.

Having said that, when Amazon first started selling books, I did not think it would become this big. In the US, it is increasingly hard to find a book at a bookstore. Last year, Borders shut down. Some time ago, there was a small boutique computer store chain called Fat Brain (originally Computer Literacy Bookshops). I often went to the one at the Apple Computer headquarters. After the acquisition, it disappeared completely, in 2000. My choices got so limited. I stopped going to Barnes & Noble because I cannot find the book I want unless I order it. If I have to wait, Amazon seems to be a better choice.

So much for my nostalgia for bookstores. To intercept this trend and exploit it, eBay did not sit still. It went on a buying spree for the necessary technologies, making 13 acquisitions in 12 months. It is a lot of work when you acquire and integrate other companies into your own. From human resources down to document formats and jargon, a lot needs to be changed. But when you consider 14 (13 plus eBay’s original) computing systems, the effort to integrate them is a tremendous amount of work, let alone technology integration. Not sure exactly what eBay did, but some data centers might have been consolidated, and monitoring and other management probably used different tools and services. What a nightmare!

In a future blog, I will discuss how they built a new data center to go with these requirements.

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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