Sydney’s a Go

March 12, 2015

Transforming an empty room into a fully operational data center in just three months: Some said it couldn’t be done, but we did it. In less than three months, actually.

Placing a small team on-site and turning an empty room into a data center is what SoftLayer refers to as a Go Live. Now, of course there is more to bringing a data center online than the just the transformation of an empty room. In the months leading up to the Go Live deployment, there are details to work out, contracts to sign, and the electrical fit out (EFO) of the room itself. During my time with SoftLayer I have been involved in building several of our data centers, or SoftLayer pods as we call them. Pods are designed to facilitate infrastructure scalability, and although they have evolved over the years as newer, faster equipment has become available, the original principles behind the design are still intact—so much so that a data center technician could travel to any SoftLayer data center in the world and start working without missing a beat. And the same holds true to building a pod from the ground up. This uniformity is what allows us to fast track the build out of a new SoftLayer pod. This is one of the reasons why the Sydney data center launch was such a success.

Rewind Three Months

When we landed in Sydney on December 11, 2014, we had an empty server room and about 125 pallets of gear and equipment that had been carefully packed and shipped by our inventory and logistics team. First order of business: breaking down the pallets, inspecting the equipment for any signs of damage and checking that we received everything needed for the build. It’s really quite impressive to know that everything from screwdrivers to our 25U routers to even earplugs had been logged and accounted for. When you are more than 8,500 miles away from your base of operations, it’s imperative that the Go Live team has everything it needs on hand from the start. Something seemingly inconsequential as not having the proper screws can lead to costly delays during the build. Once everything’s been checked off, the real fun begins.


(From Left) Jackie Vong, Dennis Vollmer, Jon Bowden, Chris Stelly, Antonio Gomez, Harpal Singh, Kneeling - Zachary Schacht, Peter Panagopoulos, and Marcelo Alba

Next we set up the internal equipment that powers the pod: four rows of equipment that encompass everything from networking gear to storage to the servers that run various internal systems. Racking the internal equipment is done according to pre-planned layouts and involves far too many cage nuts, the bane of every server build technician’s existence.

Once the internal rows are completed, it’s time to start focusing on the customer rows that will contain bare metal and virtual servers. Each customer rack contains a minimum of five switches—two for the private network, two for the public network, and one out-of-band management switch. Each row has two power strips and in the case of the Sydney data center, two electrical transfer switches at the bottom of the rack that provide true power redundancy by facilitating the transfer of power from one independent feed to another in the case of an outage. Network cables from the customer racks route back to the aggregate switch rack located at the center of each row.

Right around the time we start to wrap up the internal and customer rows, a team of network engineers arrive on-site to run the interconnects between the networking gear and the rest of the internal systems and to light up the fiber lines connecting our new pod to our internal network (as well as the rest of the world). This is a big day because not only do we finally get Wi-Fi up in the pod, but no longer are we isolated on an island. We are connected, and teams thousands of miles away can begin the process of remotely logging in to configure, deploy, and test systems. The networking team will start work on configuring the switches, load balancers, and firewalls for their specific purposes. The storage team will begin the process of bringing massive storage arrays online, and information systems will start work on deploying the systems that manage the automation each pod provides.


(From Left) Zach Robbins, Grayson Schmidt, Igor Gorbatok and Alex Abin

During this time, we start the process of onboarding the newest members of the team, the local Sydney techs, who in a few short months will be responsible for managing the data center independently. But before they fully take over, customer racks are prepped and are waiting to house the final piece of the puzzle: the servers. They arrive via truck day [check out DAL05 Pod 2 truck day]; Sydney’s was around the beginning of February. Given the amount of hardware we typically receive, truck days are an event unto themselves—more than 1,500 of the newest and fastest SuperMicro servers of various shapes and sizes that will serve as the bare metal and virtual servers for our customers. Through a combination of manpower and automation, these servers get unboxed, racked, checked in, and tested before they are sold to our customers.

Now departments involved in bringing the Sydney data center online wrap up and sign off. Then we go live.

Bringing a SoftLayer pod online and on time is a beautifully choreographed process and is one of my greatest professional accomplishments. The level of coordination and cohesion required to pull it off, not once, not twice but ten times all over the world in the last year alone can’t be overstated enough.

-Dennis

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