Moving clouds: International transportation standards

As a technical starting point of this research Patrick Keller already wrote two posts on hardware standards and measures: The Rack Unit and the EIC /ECIA Standards (other articles including technical overview are the 19 Inch Rack & Rack Mount Cases). Within the same intent of understanding the technical standards and limitations that shape the topologies of data centers we decided to investigate how the racks can be packed, shipped, and gain mobility. The standards for server transportation safety are set by the Rack Transport Stability Team (RTST) guidelines. Of course, custom built server packaging exists based on the international standards. We’ll start by listing them from the smallest to the biggest dimensions. First off, the pallet is the smallest measure. Once installed on pallets, the racks can be disposed in standard 20′ or 40′ shipping containers. The image below depicts different ways of arranging the pallets within the container:

Setting up our own (small size) personal cloud infrastructure. Part #3, reverse engineer the “black box”


At a very small scale and all things considered, a computer “cabinet” that hosts cloud servers and services is a very small data center and is in fact quite similar to large ones for its key components… (to anticipate the comments: we understand that these large ones are of course much more complex, more edgy and hard to “control”, more technical, etc., but again, not so fundamentally different from a conceptual point of view).



Documenting the black box… (or un-blackboxing it?)


You can definitely find similar concepts that are “scalable” between the very small – personal – and the extra large. Therefore the aim of this post, following two previous ones about software (part #1) –with a technical comment here– and hardware (part #2), is to continue document and “reverse engineer” the set up of our own (small size) cloud computing infrastructure and of what we consider as basic key “conceptual” elements of this infrastructure. The ones that we’ll possibly want to reassess and reassemble in a different way or question later during the I&IC research.

However, note that a meaningful difference between the big and the small data center would be that a small one could sit in your own house or small office, or physically find its place within an everyday situation (becoming some piece of mobile furniture? else?) and be administrated by yourself (becoming personal). Besides the fact that our infrastructure offers server-side computing capacities (therefore different than a Networked Attached Storage), this is also a reason why we’ve picked up this type of infrastructure and configuration to work with, instead of a third party API (i.e. Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) with which we wouldn’t have access to the hardware parts. This system architecture could then possibly be “indefinitely” scaled up by getting connected to  similar distant personal clouds in a highly decentralized architecture –like i.e. ownCloud seems now to allow, with its “server to server” sharing capabilities–.

See also the two mentioned related posts:

Setting up our own (small size) personal cloud infrastructure. Part #1, components

Setting up our own (small size) personal cloud infrastructure. Part #2, components

EIC / ECIA standards (for racks, cabinets, panels and associated equipment)

And now that the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) has become the Electronic Components Alliance (ECA) and has then merged with the National Electronic Distributors Association (NEDA), its new name is ECIA, standing for Electronic Components Industry Association. That’s where you can buy (for $88.00 usd) the norm EIA/ECA-310E that regulates the 19″ cabinets standard.

Acting like a building block, this modular standard ultimately gives shape to bigger size data centers that hold many of these racks and cabinets.

Setting up our own (small size) personal cloud infrastructure. Part #2, components

While setting up our own small size data center and cloud infrastructure, we’ve tried to exemplify the key constitutive ingredients of this type of computing infrastructure, as of November 2014. But we’ve also tried to maintain them as much open as we could, for further questioning, developments and transformations.

The first key ingredients are software parts and we’ve described them in the previous post about the same topic.

Cloud Computing workshop at CHI2011

It’s as if the human-computer interaction community haven’t really addressed (yet) cloud computing, especially in the context of personal cloud services. An exception is this workshop called “Designing interaction for the cloud” organized by a team from Liverpool John Moores University. Their goal was to bring together researchers and practitioners from various fields and “examine the impact of cloud computing on the design of the user experience at the individual and organizational level”.

The workshop introductory paper highlights various research issues related to the following challenges:

  • Design for a fragmented user experience
  • Interoperability – goals and reality
  • Personal clouds and multi-sensory environments
  • The cloud in non-commercial application domains, e.g. medicine, education
  • Privacy and trust as UX issues
  • UI standards and processes in Cloud design

The 19 inches rack

The 19″ rack as a long story and like most “normalized” artifacts, some of its dimensions are inherited by past uses/components (telephony?), some of which are not used anymore.

The 19″ rack is globally used as a standardized server enclosure (or computer cabinet) in data centers. Build in steel and usually heavy, it is nonetheless designed to be mobile (mounted on wheels and easily packable on pallet and/or within containers for transportation). This massive use leads to the common esthetic of the data center, with straight lines of cabinets containing multiple servers. A 19″ rack usually do the same thing at a very small size than a full data center: it physically protects servers, organizes their dispatching in a very rational way and control air flows & climate/temperature.

We cannot speak about servers cabinet without mentioning the other normative unit that structure them: “U“. A “U” is a rack unit that describes the height of the equipments within the rack.