Whether server farms are ventures worth investing in or not is a lengthy debate. One cannot undermine the advantages of setting up one of these sprawling, high-tech facilities for one’s business. However, the difficulties one may face while maintaining a server farm also cannot be ignored. Techspirited explains the impact that server farms have on companies, the environment, and society in general.
Collocation: A Resource-Saving Alternative
Given that the construction and maintenance of a server farm is quite expensive, nowadays, the trend of renting facilities for data centers in lieu of managing one’s own, is on the rise. Companies offering these services are equipped to meet all the infrastructural requirements of a server farm, from providing power supply (along with a electricity back-up), cooling, right up to network bandwidth, and even the hardware itself. Moreover, even security is taken care of.
This mechanism of renting server farms that is profitable both for companies who require data centers, as well as the businesses that provide them, is known as collocation.
A server farm is a large facility that houses server clusters. Since servers are critical to the functioning of majority of the companies in the world, irrespective of their size and the business model they follow, it is not surprising that almost every organization at least has a single room in their entire premises dedicated to their internal and external networks. But servers do not merely serve an administrative role; the most important aspect of any business, namely, all of its data, is also stored in the firm’s servers.
From all this, one can deduce that having a large facility reserved for a company’s servers goes hand in hand with the company’s success because, obviously, constructing one would mean being equipped to handle a greater volume of traffic and storing a larger quantity of data, while on the other hand, the need for such a facility itself would stem from the company’s growth.
However, managing a server farm involves commitment and finances much above one’s imagination. One has to take into account the huge number of contributing factors to a towering pile of bills, and also look into the environmental impact of keeping such a venture running around the clock. We have put all these thoughts in perspective, and tried to conclude whether having a server farm is a ground-breaking idea that paves the road to greater heights for any company, or a path that must be tread on with caution.
The Advantages of Operating a Server Farm
There are two sides to any coin, and yes, setting up a server farm for your business can be very profitable. Here are the main advantages you are entitled to if you opt to maintain a server farm:
The Benefits of Implementing Redundancy
♦ Having a large number of mirrored servers ensures quick fault recovery, as if a single server fails, the rest of the servers can automatically reconfigure themselves to handle the increased load, ensuring the constant accessibility of the company’s servers.
♦ Data too, will not be lost, as the presence of redundant servers ensures multiple back-up copies of stored data, which may be accessed in the event that the primary server hosting it fails.
♦ If servers are added or removed from the farm, or if any hardware needs to be updated or repaired, there will be no impact on the overall performance in situations where redundancy is effectively achieved.
The Benefits of Load Sharing, Monitoring, and Sharing Resources
♦ Generally, in a server farm, the load, whether in terms of power, bandwidth usage, or functionality, is efficiently distributed between the different servers by putting in place a good load balancing algorithm. This improves the overall productivity of the systems, and maximizes throughput.
♦ In a server farm, the advantage of being able to make use of one of the many efficient resource-sharing architectures designed exclusively for servers, for example, the SAN architecture, can be availed. Resources, especially storage devices, can be shared, thus improving overall performance.
♦ Naturally, the efficient management of a server farm includes constant monitoring of all systems. Thanks to this, all issues can be detected the moment they arise, and subsequently they can also be almost instantly dealt with.
Benefits to the Community
♦ Major corporations who set up server farms invest a lot of money in the entire project, and in addition to it, they themselves oversee ventures that would help the community of areas neighboring the site of the farm.
♦ Any project of the ranks of constructing a server farm for a major Internet-based venture leads to the creation of a large number of jobs, which is again beneficial to both the community and economy.
The Brutal Cons of Running a Server Farm
Brace yourselves, as some of the negative implications of server farms will serve you quite a severe shock. Here are a few of the main drawbacks of having a server farm:
In Terms of Energy/Power Consumption
♦ Needless to say, to keep hundreds of thousands of servers running constantly, a colossal amount of energy is consumed. It is said that the amount of energy consumed by a single server farm of large Internet tycoons like Microsoft, Facebook, and many others for an entire year, is equivalent to the energy consumption for the same period in 40,000 homes.
♦ Keeping all the systems in a server farm switched on for a prolonged period of time, that too in such a way that they constantly achieve their maximum potential, will obviously eventually lead to overheating. Because of this, half the power drawn by a server farm is utilized in cooling. It is also said that 90% of the energy consumed by a server farm is wasted.
♦ Apart from working around the clock, which would as it is draw in a lot of electricity, these server farms also constantly keep a back-up power source running, to be equipped to recover from issues like power failure. It is quite frightening to imagine the extent of air pollution, in the form of the emission of exhaust smoke ensuing as a result of consuming such large quantities of diesel, this whole arrangement contributes to.
In Terms of Environmental Impact
♦ Imagine a single server farm facility that is a sprawling 50-100 acres in area (amounting to more than 400,000 square meters). Now imagine an Internet-based corporation that has set up 8 or 9 such facilities all over the world. The first question that springs to the mind is, from where did they acquire this much land?
♦ Additionally, to be able to make use of natural resources like hydro electricity to power the facility without compromising costs, these server farms need to be located closer to large water bodies. Invariably, the land on which the site of such a server farm stands, is more often than not agricultural or forest land.
In Terms of Finances
♦ Let us attempt to estimate the tentative costs involved in running a single server farm, for say, an e-commerce website. Financial transactions are involved here, therefore, the network (read: website’s servers) can never be ‘down’. First we account for the cost of procuring a good 700,000 servers, their auxiliary hardware (including network switches/routers and devices that implement load sharing algorithms, not to mention the ethernet cabling for the whole facility). This will in itself be an exorbitant amount.
♦ We also need to account for the cost incurred because of bandwidth usage, and the cost of electricity to keep all the servers running, and delivering their maximum potential, in a 24×7 environment. Additionally, we must include the cost of maintaining the mandatory low temperature, in the absence of which the problem of overheating may be faced. The costs of keeping the back-up electricity generator running all this while must also not be forgotten.
♦ Assuming that the company is setting up a brand new facility from the first principles, we must also include the cost of the land, taxes payable to the government, and the entire cost of construction (which includes labor as well as material). This already takes our estimated figure to billions of dollars.
♦ Of course, the cost of creating the facility from scratch, as well as populating it with hardware are a one-time-only investment, however, the other factors will definitely draw in an annual bill of at least a million dollars for the company.
The Cloud Paradox
The “cloud” is the newest buzzword in the tech-o-sphere today. Alongside IT engineers and business analysts who cannot stop gushing about how it is the future of computing entirely, the average guy on the street proudly boasts that he now stores all his important files on his cloud drive.
The irony, though, is that the common man perceives cloud storage as a virtual, hardware-free location, where all his files will be securely stored (for which he pays a monthly or annual subscription fee), but this notion couldn’t be further from the truth. The data that you do not back-up in physical media (CDs, USB drives, removable hard disk drives, memory SD cards, and the like) at home, opting for “cloud storage”, actually gets stored in the servers of a data center, which is nothing but a server farm.
The Internet is growing at a phenomenal pace every second. Any data under the sun, from the username and password you select for an account of a random ‘singles’ website (along with, of course, all the additional personal data provided to build a profile, including your photograph), to the back-up of your music collection you decide to stash away in some cloud drive, right down to the fragments of information collected by e-commerce websites about their clients’ preferences via tracking cookies, all of it is stored on physical servers, located in server farm facilities. And do not forget, all these websites have a reputation to maintain, and hence they maintain multiple copies of every bit of data they receive, on back-up servers, lest it becomes inaccessible to clients.
Did you know that to so much as send an email to the account of a person sitting right next to you, the data you sent may have to travel across a whole continent, all the way to the company’s server and back? Since people often do not delete old email, especially those with attachments (and why should they, when they are offered Gigabytes of free inbox “space”), all the email messages of countless internet users across the planet, are currently stored on the email company’s servers, in enormous server farms, located in some obscure corner of the world.
The perception towards the facilities available to us today that may have been unimaginable less than two decades ago (super-fast Internet, cloud storage, instant search results, money transfer in a matter of seconds), has transitioned from viewing them as a luxury, to believing that they are a necessity, or a fundamental right. Because of this, we cannot move backwards; we cannot undo the technological boom that this Internet age has heralded, making our lives so much more comfortable.
However, at the same time, we must stop and think. We must not get swayed by the glitter of the “cloud”, and make ourselves aware of stark realities. Otherwise, we will only be causing harm to our planet, our one and only source of sustenance.
Server Virtualization – The Light at the End of the Tunnel?
The more one delves into the cloud paradox, the more clear it becomes that there needs to be a solution to this problem, that does not compromise how accustomed we are to certain privileges that come with living in this era of technology, but at the same time is viable enough to perform some serious damage control. Server virtualization may hold all the answers.
In simple words, server virtualization is a technique born out of combining hardware and software engineering, where Virtual Machines (VMs) are created on a single system, to enable it to perform with the capability of multiple machines. A VM is capable of running more than one OS at a single time, as opposed to having different computers on which different OSs would run. Thus, it implements hardware sharing.
Virtualization has many benefits. Apart from achieving a server consolidation ratio of 10:1, it drastically improves the whole load balancing mechanism, improving overall server utilization. A better algorithm also results in better fault recovery, and improvement in efficiency altogether. All issues that can arise due to hardware issues, for example, the corruption of a memory device, are eliminated when server virtualization is implemented, which means that this arrangement is much more reliable.
They say that server virtualization could be the guiding light for the future, and it may help to mitigate the impending damage that raising innumerable server farms overnight to meet the demand of the Internet could do to the environment. Many companies have already started implementing techniques of server virtualization, at least partially, so as to take steps towards reducing their green footprint.
However, only time will tell if server virtualization will prove to be a sustainable solution to the negative impact of server farms.
We hope that with our little write-up, we were able to enlighten you about the merits and demerits of server farms.