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Behind the Scenes, SANta Claus Global Cloud Story

There is a ton of discussion, stories, articles, videos, conferences and blogs about the value proposition of cloud computing

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There is a ton of discussion, stories, articles, videos, conferences and blogs about the benefits and value proposition of cloud computing.

Not to mention, discussion or debates about what is or what is not a cloud or cloud product, service or architecture including some perspectives and polls from me.

[Santa Photo Via ABC news]

Life in the clouds

Now SANta does not really care about these and other similar debates I have learned.

However he is concerned with who has been naughty and nice as well watching out for impersonators or members of his crew who misbehave.



In the spirit of the holidays, how about a quick look at how SANta leverages cloud technologies to support his global operations.

Many in IT think that SANta bases his operations out of the North Pole as it is convenient for him to cool all of his servers, storage, networks and telecom equipment (which it is).

However its also centrally located (See chart) for the northern hemisphere (folks down under may get serviced via SANtas secret Antarctica base of operations).

Just like ANC (Anchorage International Airport) is a popular cargo transient, transload and refueling base for cargo carriers, SANta also leverages the north and South Pole regions to his advantage.

Great Circle Mapper

[Photo: SANtas Global Reach via Great Circle Mapper]

Now do not worry if you have never heard about SANta dual redundant South Pole operations, its one of his better kept secrets. Many organizations including SANtas partners such as Microsoft that have global mega IT operations and logistics centers have followed SANtas lead of leveraging various locations outside of the pacific northwest. Granted like some of his partners and managed service providers, he does maintain a presence in Washington Columbia river basin which provides a nice PR among other benefits.

Likewise, many in business as well as those in IT think that SANta leverages cloud technologies for cost savings or avoidance which is partially the case. However he also leverages cloud, hosting, managed service provider (MSP), virtual data centers, virtual operations centers, Xaas, SaaS or SOA technologies, services, protocols and products that are transparent and complimentary to his own in house resources addressing various business and service requirement needs.

What this has to do with the holidays and clouds is that you may not realize how Santa or St. Nick if you prefer (feel free to plug in whoever you like if Santa or St. Nick does not turn your crank) extensively relies on flexible and scalable resilient technologies for boosting productivity in a cost effective manner. Some of it is IT related, some of it is not. For example, from the GPS and Radar along with recently added RNP and RNAV enhanced capabilities to his increasingly high tech bio fueled powered sleigh, not to mention his information technology (IT) that powers his global operations, old St Nick has got it together when it comes to technology.

SANta Bio Fuel Powered Sliegh

The heart or brains of the SANta operation is his global system operations center (SOC) or network operation center (NOC) that rivals those seen at NASA among others with multiple data feeds. The SOC is a 24x365 operations function that covers all aspects from transportation, logistics, distribution, assembly or packaging, financials back office, CRM, IT and communications among other functions.

SOCs and NOCsSOCs and NOCs
SOCs and NOCs that enable SANta to get those SOCKs above fireplace filled!

Naturally, like the Apollo moon shots whose Grumman built LEM Lunar lander had to have 100% availability in that to get off of the moon, their engines only had to fire once, however it had to work 100% of the time! This thought process is said to have had leveraged principles from SANtas operations guide where he has one night a year to accomplish the impossible.

I should mention, while I cannot disclose (due to NDA) the exact locations of the SOCs, data or logistics centers, not to mention the vendors or the technology being used, I can tell you that they are all around you! The fully redundant SOCs, data and call centers as well as logistics sites (including staff, facilities, technology) leverage different time zones for efficiency.

SANtas staff have also found that the redundant SOCs, part of an approach across Santa entire vast organization has helped to guard against global epidemics and pandemics including SARs and H1N1 among others by isolating workers while providing appropriate coverage and availability, something many large organizations have since followed.

Carrying through on the philosophy of redundant SOCs, all other aspects of SANtas operations are distributed yet with centralized coordinated management, leveraging real-time situation awareness, event and activity correlation (what we used to call or refer to as AI), cross technology domain management, proactive monitoring and planning yet with ability for on the spot decision making.

What this means is that the various locations have ability to make localized decisions on the spot. However coordinated with primary operations or mission control to streamline global operations focus on strategic activity along with exceptions handling to be more effective. Thus it is not fully distributed nor fully centralized, rather a hybrid in terms of management, technologies and the way they work.

For example, to handle the diverse applications, there are some primary large processing and data retention facilities that backup, replicate information to other peer sites as well as smaller regional remote office branch offices close to where information services are needed. To say the environment is highly virtualized would be an understatement.

Likewise, optimization is key not just to keep costs low or avoid overheating some of SANtas facilities that are located in the Arctic and Antarctic regions that could melt the ice cap; they are also optimized to keep response time as low as possible while boosting productivity.

Thus, SANta has to rely on very robust and diverse communications networking leveraging LAN, SAN, MAN, WAN, POTS and PANs among other technologies. For example, his communications portfolio is said to involves landlines (copper and optical), RF including microwave and other radio based commutations supporting or using 3G, 4G, MPLS, SONET/SCH, xWDM, Microwave and Free space optics among others.

SANtas networking and communications elves are also said to be working with 5G and 100GbE multiplexed on 256 lambda WDM trunk circuits in non core trunk applications. Of course given the airborne operations, satellite and ACARS are a must to avoid over flying a destination while remaining in positive control during low visibility. Note that Santa routinely makes more CAT 3+ low visibility landings than most of the worlds airlines, air freight companies combined.

SANtas Sliegh Navigation and GUI Displays

SANtas has GUI and Management Displays in his Sleigh
My sources also tell me that SANta has virtual desktop capability leveraging PCoIP and other optimizations on his primary and backup sleighs enabling rapid reconfiguration for changing workload conditions. He also is fully equipped with onboard social media capabilities for updates via twitter, Face book and Linked In among others designed by his chief social networking elf.

Consequently, given the vast amount of information needed to support his operations from CRM, shipping, tracking not to mention historical and profiling needs, transactional volumes both on the data as well as voice and social media networks dwarf the stock market trading volume.

Feeding SANtas vast organizations are online highly available robust databases for transactions purposes, reference unstructured data material including videos, websites and more. Some of which look hauntingly familiar given those that are part of SANtas eWorld Helpers initiative including: Sears, Amazon, NetFlix, Target, Albertsons, Staples, EMC, Wall mart, Overstock, RadioShack, Landsend, Dell, HP, eBay, Lowes, Publix, emusic, Riteaid and Supervalu among others (Im just sayin...).

The actual size of SANta information repository is a closely regarded secret as is the exact topology, schema and content structure. However it is understood that on peak days SANtas highly distributed high performance, low latency data warehouse sees upwards of 1,225PBytes of data added, one that is rumored to make Larry Ellison gush with excitement over its growth possibilities.

How does SANta pull this all off is by leveraging virtualization, automation, efficient and enabling technologies that allow him and elves (excuse me, associates or team members) to be more productivity in their areas of focus that is the envy of the universe.

Some of their efficiency is measured in terms of:

  • How many packages can be processed per elf with minimum or no mistakes
  • Number of calls, requests, inquiries per day per elf in a friendly and understandable manner
  • Knowing who has been naughty or nice in the blink of an eye including historical profiles
  • Virtual machines (VM) or physical machine (PM) servers managed per team member
  • Databases and applications, local and remote, logical and physical per team member
  • Storage in terms of PByte and Exabyte managed to given service level per team member
  • Network circuits and bandwidth with fewest dropped packets (or packages) per member
  • Fewest misdirected packages as well as aborted landings per crew
  • Fewest pounds gained from consumption of most milk and cookies per crew

From how many packages can be processed per hour, to the number of virtual servers per person, PBytes of data managed per person, network connections and circuits per person, databases and applications per person to takes and landings (SANta has the top of the list for this one), they are all highly efficient and effective.

Likewise, SANta leverages the partners in his SANtas eWORLD Helpers initiative network to help out where of course he looks for value; however value is not just lowest price per VM, lowest cost per TByte or cost per bandwidth. For SANta it is also very focused on performance, availability, capacity and economic efficiency not to mention quality with an environmentally friendly green supply chain.

By having a green supply chain, SANta leverages from a responsible, global approach that also makes economic sense on where to manufacture and produce or procure products. Contrary to growing popular belief, locally produced may not always be the most environmentally as well as economically favorable approach. For example (read more here), instead of growing flowers and plans in western Europe where they are consumed, a process that would require more energy for heat, lights, not to mention water and other resources. SANta has bucked the trend instead relying on the economics and environmental benefit of leveraging flowers and plants grown in warmer, sunnier climates.

Granted and rest assured, SANta still has an army of elves busily putting things together in his own factories along with managing IT related activities in a economically positive manner.

SANta has also leveraged this thinking to his data and information and communications networks leveraging sites such as in the arctic where solar power can be used during summer months along with cooling economizers to offset the impact of batteries, workload is shifted around the world as needed. This approach is rumored to be the envy of the US EPA Energy Star for Server, Storage and Data Center crew not to mention their followers.

How does SANta make sure all of the data and information is protected and available? Its a combination of best practices, techniques, technologies including hardware, software, data protection management tools, disk, dedupe, compression, tape and cloud among others.

Rest assured, if it is in the technology buzzword bingo book, it is a good bet that it has been tested in one of SANtas facilities, or, partner sites long before you hear about it even under a strict NDA discussion with one of his elves (opps, I mean supplier partners).

When asked of the importance of his information and data networks, resources and cloud enabled highly virtualized efficient operations SANta responded with a simple:

Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

As you sit back and relax, reflect, recreate, recoup or recharge, or whatever it is that you do this time of the year, take a moment to think about and thank all of SANtas helpers. They are the ones that work behind the scenes in SANtas facilities as well as his partners or suppliers, some in the clouds, some on or underground to make the worlds largest single event day (excuse me, night) possible! Or, is this SANta and cloud thing all just one big fantasy?

Happy and safe holidays or whatever you want to refer to it as, best wishes and thanks!

BTW: FTC disclosure information can be found here!

Greg on Break
Me on a break during tour SANta site tour

Cheers and seasons greetings gs

Greg Schulz - StorageIO, Author "The Green and Virtual Data Center" (CRC)

More Stories By Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg has worked with various server operating systems along with storage and networking software tools, hardware and services. Greg has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and storage and capacity planner for various IT organizations. He has worked for various vendors before joining an industry analyst firm and later forming StorageIO.

In addition to his analyst and consulting research duties, Schulz has published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers and is a sought after popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.

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