Fridge-sized data centre lets miners move on from dusty boxes

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This article appeared in the May 2015 issue of CRN magazine.

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Fridge-sized data centre lets miners move on from dusty boxes
Angie and Clinton Keeler

Angie Keeler has spent a lot of time around the mines. An injury management adviser from the University of South Africa, she looked after the health and safety of workers hauling rocks out of the ground.

Keeler noticed a recurring problem among mines. The servers running the communications and job management programs for each site were frequently on the blink because they were overheating, struggling with the dust or vulnerable to theft and damage. “There was a gap in the market,” Keeler says. 

Keeler and her advertising executive husband found some people to help put their ideas into a prototype and tracked down someone to build a more robust server suitable for mining. They took the hardware to CSC for testing to make sure it could withstand the brutal conditions and began marketing their ‘Zellabox’. 

The hardware game is becoming tougher for everyone; even Dell and HP are feeling the pinch. This makes it all the more surprising that a new hardware manufacturer should pop up in Australia. Although assembly occurs offshore, Zellabox’s headquarters are in Osborne Park, Western Australia.

Despite the odds against their success, big companies were willing to take a punt on the Australian hardware maker. Early on, high-profile customers included Barrick Gold, Newmont Mining and BHP. 

What exactly is a Zellabox? It’s more a micro data centre than a simple server, Keeler says. 

“What makes it a micro data centre as opposed to any other rack is that the Zellabox is a completely sealed environment. It meets all the requirements of a data centre in the size of a refrigerator,” she says. 

That means absolutely no air in or out; the unit is totally silent and sealed, with its own cooling and fire protection. Mining companies can ditch a whole server room, with its electricity costs, for one of these frugal Zellaboxes. Consumption of power ranges from 2.1kw to 7kw. 

“Your server room could take up to 50 percent of the energy costs for that branch,” Keeler says. “With the Zellabox, you’re only cooling that tiny space. And you can place it in reception or in a hallway.” 

The Zellabox is sealed to improve security, too, so it can be stored in public places even when it’s holding critical data or applications. Entry is via keypad or biometric readers.

Last year, the Royal Bank of Scotland selected Zellabox as a finalist in its Innovation Gateway competition, an initiative that searches internationally for new ways of reducing energy, water and waste. Reducing the energy footprint of servers is a priority in the UK, which is expected to see its electricity costs rise by 50 percent in the next two years, Keeler says.

The Zellabox is a continuation of a trend that swept through data centres a few years ago; containerisation. Once big data centre operators realised the benefits of buying larger units of infrastructure it was only natural for smaller companies to want the mobility and flexibility of a single-box solution.

“We’re making in-roads with big enterprises that want to know what each location looks like. They can plan, populate, test and configure from one location and send them out to other destinations and have one person on-site for the installation,” Keeler says. The Zellaboxes can also be managed from a single location.  

Keeler is working on obtaining tiered classifications for her micro data centres up to tier four, which require redundancy and minimum uptime. The Zellaboxes have redundancy for every component, including cooling systems and power supplies. The company’s 60 units, sold globally, have an average 99.7 percent uptime, Keeler claims.

The Zellaboxes are distributed through Australia, Latin America and Singapore, with a UK channel in the pipeline. DPSA is the distie in Australia. 

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