Coalition forces complete 18-month Afghanistan mission using pod-based data centers

November 21, 2014 Tony Evans

Tony EvansTony Evans  View the original post

Battle tested is a euphemism that gets bandied about casually in technology circles, but there’s battle tested and then there’s battle tested.

Two years ago, Schneider Electric, working in conjunction with a European company, built several containerized data centers for coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan. Today we’re pleased to report that these custom-built data centers have accomplished their mission and been shipped back to a staging area in Europe to await their next deployment.

As you might expect, there are a number of unique challenges in the specification and design of equipment that will be used in such an inhospitable location and under such dangerous circumstances. We’re talking about a fully functioning high-density, blade-server data center in a series of pods — power, cooling, at least one had a generator. And while we can’t disclose too many details, its function was directly related to the safety of coalition forces.

While not at the front lines in a battle zone, the equipment was deployed within range of enemy mortar fire and the customer did ask for things that you would never find in a regular data center: Special hardened outsides, for example, special connectors, special ways to ground it.

One advantage we had in undertaking this project is that a number my team members have had military experience. That includes the lead systems engineer I’ll identify only as “Chris,” who has served two terms in Afghanistan with the Marine Corps. When Chris landed in Kabul, he was met by an armed escort and transported in an armored vehicle to the deployment zone. And while this may have constituted “light duty” given his military background, Chris was out there for about two weeks, sleeping on a cot.

The logistics of the entire project were challenging, both internally and externally. We had to organize multinational service capabilities, for example, which included bringing an Afghan service organization to our Uniflair factory in Italy so they could learn how to service the chillers in this setup. We had to do training for the hosting organization, meaning the military, to do certain levels of maintenance. Chris handled that while he was on site.

Fortunately, the modular architecture of these data centers is particularly well suited for a deployment such as this one. Everything within them is almost like a file cabinet, so all the key components slide in and out like drawers. The components are smart enough to self-diagnose problems, so when something goes wrong technically unskilled labor can grab a new module from swap stock and slide it into place, thus eliminating the need to fly a technician from the United States to Afghanistan.

We’re proud of how this project played out. Working with our customer we designed, built and fielded these customized yet easy to maintain data centers and overcame the unique logistical challenges posed by a war zone. The units did their job and now they’re on standby waiting for their next mission.

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