Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ancestry.com Bloggers Day: The Data Center

After Andrew Wait’s introduction, Ron Hair gave us a tour of the Ancestry.com data center.

There was really no need to blindfold me as they transported us to the Ancestry.com Data Center at “an undisclosed location somewhere in Salt Lake County.” I was initially disoriented until I recognized the soft whirling of microfilm readers as we drove by the Family History Library on West Temple Street. Our location was confirmed when we took a left and shortly I recognized the unique smell of the rolls as we passed the Lion House on South Temple Street…a right…a freeway ramp…a round-about…a right…and a right. That left only the mystery of why they even bothered to blindfold me in the first place. (Particularly since they told us the name of the business, which Google readily located. I guess if we can’t tell you the location, by extension I can’t tell you the name of the business, either.)

This data center is the primary location for all the computer servers that power Ancestry.com Inc. websites. A secondary data center will exist at a Verizon facility for disaster recovery. Security was tight. We weren’t allowed to take pictures. The building is guarded 24x7. Video surveillance is employed throughout the facility as shown in the photograph to the left, which I promise I did not take with a camera hidden in the earpiece of my glasses.

Access to the Ancestry.com server rooms requires visual identification by the guard, security card access, and a biometric handprint scan. Hair said that technicians have a private contest to see who can get the best score on the handprint recognition system. (When you’re putting in an all-nighter, as technicians are frequently required to do so their work doesn’t slow down your daytime use of the website, it must get awfully boring!) Again, I deny all knowledge of how this photograph was acquired. Any similarity to the same shirt hanging in my closet is purely coincidental.

In December 2003 RootsWeb.com was the first site moved here. Ancestry.com was moved here in October 2005. Ancestry.com, Inc. occupies two rooms of 3,700 and 2,800 sq. ft. in size. A special type of computer called a blade server is used in data centers. They are long and thin, with no keyboard or screen. The photograph below shows a side view of a server on the left, and a front view of five servers on the right.

HP BL460 Blade Server

Dozens of blade computers can be plugged into a frame, called a rack cabinet. Ancestry.com uses nearly 200 rack cabinets between the two rooms. The photograph to the left (standard disclaimer applies) shows seven racks filled with blade servers. Ancestry.com, Inc. finished last year with 6,118 servers, up from the 5,328 servers they had on our previous tour.

The racks also contain storage devices, tape backup drives, and specialized database servers. When personal member trees are too slow, it means Ancestry.com doesn’t have enough of the latter. Hair mentioned that they had added lots of these since our last tour.

Next time we’ll finish Ron Hair’s data center tour and presentation.

Ancestry.com's Ron Hair Ron Hair serves as senior director of Web/IT (Information Technologies) operations and is responsible for the day to day operation of datacenters and IT services where he has over 27 years of experience. Before Ancestry.com, he served as director of IT and vice president of technical services at Cimetrix, which provides software solutions for factory connectivity and advanced motion controls. Prior to Cimetrix, Hair worked for Evans & Sutherland in Salt Lake City as director of IT. He has a degree in design & computer graphics from Brigham Young University.

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