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I saw AT&T's cloud

…and it was dense. I toured an AT&T Internet Data Center (IDC) facility this morning, in dear old Watertown, MA.

It’s impressive; lots of new, gleaming white PVC and galvanized steel tubing. The facility has the ability to shutdown its chillers in the winter and get free cooling when it’s below 45 degrees outside, thanks to modern plate and frame heat exchangers (they are bright blue, probably to set off the red water pumps that connect to the PVC chiller pipes. Red, white and blue!). Solar panels can provide about 75Kw, they have a handful of megawatts worth of generators, etc, and everything is shipshape and shiny.

On the floor (36″ raised) we saw customer cages and racks for AT&T’s co-location business, the massive switching and internet hub (four 10 GB pipes to the local backbone) and we saw the AT&T managed services infrastructure, a good dozen aisles of rack space, mostly full, with alternating hot/cold aisles with about a 20 degree difference between them.

This is where AT&T puts its virtualization, hosting, application services, managed services and yes, its Synaptic cloud services for the local area. Currently, AT&T offers Synaptic Storage as an on-demand, pay-as-you-go cloud service, and Synaptic Compute is live as a “controlled launch” with a limited number of users. Currently, AT&T Business Services says that cloud is its second heaviest investment area after mobile services.

AT&T currently runs all of its production services that are virtualized on VMware, but it plans to roll out additional hypervisor support very quickly. It is also pitching its “virtual private cloud” as an area of first interest to customers. AT&T has the ability, like Verizon, to offer truly dedicated cloud environments that do not have to be exposed to standard Internet traffic at all (it’s a telecom, it can do any dedicated circuit you want from copper POTS to fiber optic, if you pony up).

A couple of quick thoughts about what I saw: Density in the AT&T infrastructure was easily 10x that of customer colocated racks, both in use of space and the floorplan. It is clearly a beast of a different order than the individual server environments.

There was a LOT of empty space. AT&T has walled off about 70,000 square feet of raised floor for later; it has the space to double its capacity for cooling, power and switching, and it isn’t using a lot of the capacity its already got online. AT&T could treble its managed services infrastructure footprint in the current ready space and still take on co-lo and hosting customers.

That says to me that the market is ready to supply IT infrastructure, and cloud infrastructure, when the demand is there. Much ado is made over Google’s uncountable, bleeding-edge servers, and Amazon’s enormous cloud environment, or Microsoft’s data centers, but here in Watertown is the plain fact that the people who really do infrastructure are ready, and waiting, for the market. The long-term future of cloud infrastructures is probably in these facilities, and not with Google or Microsoft or Amazon.

Oh, and, Verizon has a building right next door. It’s bigger than AT&T’s.

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"The long term future of cloud infrastructures is probably in these facilities, and not with Google or Microsoft or Amazon." Really? Because they have a shiny datacenter? You've pretty much described most datacenters I've been in. What makes ATT's so different from the above companies that they are going to take away market share?
Well not just the shiny, although I admit I am a bit of a hardware aficionado, shiny stuff makes me happy. But you're right, it's par for the course with any modern datacenter. What stood out to me was the amount of empty space and planned-for capacity. There's easily 10 years worth of fast, steady growth in that building. What I was trying to bring across, which may have been a little bit lost in the post, is that the big telecom companies are clearly ready for a long term, massive growth in the need for infrastructure, especially infrastructure as a service. Amazon is making a lot of hay right now on economies of scale and automated delivery, but it buys data center space from other people (Equinix hosts a great deal of AWS infrastructure on each coast). AT&T and Verizon are copying that efficient model, and they own their own facilities, cutting out one more middleman. The math seems simple to me, long term.