Tuesday, October 25, 2011

FamilySearch Data Centers and Second Vault

FamilySearch disclosed last week that it uses three data centers and is planning a fourth. A data center is a place where an organization can store computer servers, hard disk servers, tape backup servers, web servers, and Internet connection hardware.

Data center computers and other components are designed to be
mounted into racks some eight feet tall. Racks were organized
into numerous rows, totally filling large rooms.

A spokesperson from FamilySearch said that the FamilySearch.org website is kept in a data center in Ashburn, Virginia. A smaller datacenter in West Valley City, Utah acts as a backup and as a staging area where changes are tested before rolling them to Ashburn. A yet smaller datacenter is located in downtown Salt Lake City within walking distance of FamilySearch’s corporate offices in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Fans force cold air through little holes in the floor into “cold air” aisles.
Computer fans draw the cold air through the electronic hardware, expelling
the now hot air into “hot air” aisles where it returns to the air coolers.

  • The FamilySearch website consists of about 6,000 servers
  • The general public will add 10 to 15 times the users to the new FamilySearch Tree
  • Each center has a robotic tape machine whose size rivals that of a a school bus
  • FamilySearch’s Internet connection is large enough to stream more than 75,000 movies simultaneously
  • FamilySearch volunteers index 1.5 million records a day
  • Each center has miles of cables
  • FamilySearch’s ViaWest data center consumes 5 million kilowatt hours annually
  • To guard against earthquake damage, the ViaWest data center is built on big shock absorbers
  • Instead of the 10 or 20 amp breakers you see in your homes, ViaWest uses a 5,000 amp circuit breaker
FamilySearch’s downtown data center is collocated with C7 Data Centers.

FamilySearch leases space for the West Valley datacenter from a company named ViaWest. It was here that a fire suppression accident destroyed most of the hard drives in the facility. It was this accident that destroyed the Family History Expos website shortly before the St. George Family History Expo. A ViaWest spokesperson did not know how much FamilySearch was affected by the incident. (See “Major Failure of Utah Computer Center.”)

FamilySearch is contemplating another data center facility to be specifically designed as a data preservation center, according to the spokesperson. FamilySearch employees’ families were shown an architectural rendering of the facility during tours of the Salt Lake area data centers.

Jay Verkler alluded to the project during an October 2010 meeting with bloggers. It will be, as he put it, FamilySearch’s second storage vault.


  1. This was very interesting. Not being of a technological mind, I had never really given a thought to the storage of data on computer servers and where those servers were located. Thanks for the info and the views.

  2. Wonder just how many servers has? [HINT!] ;)

  3. Great post. I wonder what type of software they are using to manage their data center operations. Software for DCIM (data center infrastructure management) is growing in popularity for large data centers and provides some great tools that can lead to the optimization of all data center operations.


    - G Mitchell