The Texas road meanders around sharp bends and stands of juniper trees, eventually revealing a resource for retiring 3000s. On a few acres just southwest of Lake Travis stands a concrete fortress of modest size and significant ambitions. A remote, outsourced datacenter, operated by the Support Group, inc., is adopting 3000s, data and applications from companies moving away from their 3000s, or firms just looking for a way to free up IT resources.
The datacenter is relatively new, a project started about a year ago by tSGi, which has supported MANMAN and ERP customers for more than 15 years. From a thick slab to six-inch walls to redundant telecomm and power resources, the datacenter has grown up and gained customers. It's probably the only one in the 3000 community that's managed by a father and son, too: The Floyds, Terry and David.
Outsourced resources for 3000s aren't a brand-new concept. Disaster recovery operations, some with hot-site replication and automatic fail-over, have been available for more than two decades. But in more recent years the 3000 market is finding and using datacenters like the one at tSGi. The blockhouse that houses a handful of 3000s sits on a road with a unique sign at the curb. "Computer operaters wanted," says the sign. The Support Group is reaching globally for 3000 customers, but hiring locally.
"We wanted to hire people who live just up the road," said tSGi's founder Terry Floyd. "If there's an issue with operations, we don't want them delayed by traffic or weather."
A flyer which tSGi posted in the area advertises two openings for "Part-time, entry level computer operators." The datacenter was hiring for night shifts, and training in the mornings. "Pay: Twice the minimum wage," the flyer says. "They certainly weren't operators before they came to us," David says.
Training for HP 3000 operator skills is a dwindling practice in 2009. But the datacenter was established to deliver services now becoming rare to a community that finds its expertise retiring. Companies want to retire their HP 3000s to the outsourcers, so the work of migration can proceed faster. The 3000s are still required to serve such companies, but they want to leave the stewardship of the systems in tSGi's hands.
The servers hum with the nonchalant sound of ageless HP 3000s, running redoubtably for months and years at a stretch. But tSGi makes efficient use of its space with a hot-aisle/cold-aisle layout, a modern-era strategy to conserve energy and maintain effective operating temperature.
"Every HP server is designed to take in cool air from the front and blow hot air out its back," David says. "So we've got two hot aisles and one cold aisle, and we've had to block off as much air flow as possible to keep that hot air flowing this way and the cold air flowing this way." He looks at his father. "Terry's been reading a lot of theory on this, and HP's actually one of the leading companies working on airflow in datacenters." Terry reports that datacenter designers are now walking the aisles of computers with a "wooly," a trailing piece of yard like the ones used on sailboats, to track the direction of airflow.
The hot/cold theory has a positive impact on the environment, David adds, but it's also a key element in the datacenter business model. "It keeps down the cooling costs," he explains, so the expense of running the center is reduced and can keep pricing down, too. Chutes and flumes route the air in the space to achieve the desired effect. One 3000 shipped to the center behaves backwards: somehow a vintage Series 987 takes its cool air in from the back and pushes warm air to the front.
The datacenter is dotted with consoles dedicated to the systems. The lineup spans a broad range of 3000s, from a Series 920 to a 928 to a 969 and on into enterprise servers. An HP 9000 has taken up residence along with an Integrity server. All are monitored by a temperature/humidity sensor unit which sends text message warnings if things get too hot or humidity changes in a significant way. Trays of wire racks overheard carry cables for power and telecomm for ease of access.
Datacenter business gets flexible in the outsourced world. One customer arranged a service agreement which sent its 987 into the tSGi inventory in exchange for support for one year. The second year begins payments for the offsite support, Terry says.
Eleven HP 3000s and three Windows boxes sat in working residence in the datacenter last month. Some customers ship off a system which contains all data and applications for a retired server; once a month tSGi boots up the 3000 to check its operation and backup. Other servers are linked directly to customer sites around North America across broadband connections.
The 3000 community has begun to seek out this type of offstage setting for the companies dropping the curtain on their 3000 operations — those who are making their exit, as well as the enterprises which prefer to cast experienced players to run 3000s on a road show in Texas and elsewhere.