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Global CIO: Data Centers Behaving Boldly: Meet Tech's New Rock Stars

From Disney tourist attraction to economic-growth saviors to nuke-hardened The Bunker: data centers, always strategic, are becoming way cool.

Like NFL offensive tackles, data centers used to be the antithesis of glamorous: massive, mysterious, strong as Samson, and indispensable to success, both were also ideal when operating in total anonymity: the only times you ever heard about either one was when there was a problem—usually a big one.

Oh how times have changed. Just as some NFL tackles now make $8 million a year and speak of themselves as "brands," so too has the humble data center exploded into the public consciousness as technology's impact on and presence in our personal and business lives have surged from essential to ubiquitous. Along the way to seeking the fastest and coolest and most-capable tools and toys, we've also become more aware of the behemoths that power all that functionality and access.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting that banks are going to start holding Data Center Disco Nights to scrape up a little more revenue. No, in these days of increasingly lethal cyberattacks, most companies are taking huge steps to increase the physical and digital security of their data centers and enhance the privacy of the data and information held there.

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But a quick look at six very recent data-center developments shows clearly that they're no longer just anonymous drones laboring away endlessly in numbingly dull obscurity: quite the contrary. They've become signs of companies' massive investments in the future, such as with Microsoft's two brand-new data centers costing $500 million apiece; tourists attractions, in the case of a new IBM exhibit at DisneyWorld; home to the world's largest private cloud, as with Autonomy's seven data centers; sources of hoped-for economic development and growth in Washington state and Nebraska; nuke-hardened fortresses, such as the former Iceland NATO command-and-control center and an underground UK facility whose corporate name is The Bunker; and the U.S. government's super-but-not-totally secret NSA data center being built in Utah at a cost of $1.7 billion.

1) Disney Tourist Attraction. From Rich Miller's always informative and insightful datacenterknowledge.com website:

The data center is part of IBM's SmarterPlanet exhibit within Epcot's Innoventions center, which illustrates the role computers play in addressing complex challenges like reducing traffic and crime, and improving food safety and local water supplies.

The exhibit's glass storefront provides a glimpse of the working IBM Smarter Data Center, which powers the exhibit, and educates visitors about the servers, storage and networking equipment that serve up their favorite web sites and cloud computing services.

The exhibit is the latest sign data center technology is gaining a higher profile, slowly shedding the anonymity of the back-office server room or remote data center in a secure, undisclosed location. As the Internet becomes a more integral part of everyday life and the American economy, the back-end is moving out front.

And a related article on the environmentalleader.com website says the IBM exhibit at Disney has an IBM Cloudburst demo "geared toward businesses who want to drive down costs and accelerate time to market for new products."

2) Economic-Growth Engine. In the states of Washington and Nebraska, legislators are hoping to make their states more-appealing to businesses looking to build new data centers, but the two approaches are wildly different: Washington is offering tax breaks, while a Nebraska community is willing to raise the altitude of a huge swath of the community to avoid being designated a flood plain, which is a definite no-no on the data-center checklist.

Here's the Washington plan, from a Web Host Industry Review article:

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