There is a ton of discussion, stories, articles, videos,  conferences and blogs about the benefits and value proposition of cloud  computing. Not to mention, discussion or debates about what is or  what is not a cloud or cloud product, service or architecture including some perspectives  and polls from me.

Life in the clouds

Now SANta does not really care about these and other  similar debates I have learned. However he is concerned with who has been naughty and nice as  well watching out for impersonators or members of his crew who misbehave.

Source news
  Via ABC news the spirit of the holidays, how about a quick  look at how SANta leverages cloud technologies to support his global operations.

Many in IT think that SANta bases his operations out of  the North Pole as it is convenient for him to cool all of his servers, storage,  networks and telecom equipment (which it is). However its also centrally  located (See chart) for the northern hemisphere (folks down under may get  serviced via SANtas secret Antarctica base of operations). Just like ANC (Anchorage International Airport) is a  popular cargo transient, transload and refueling base for cargo carriers, SANta  also leverages the north and South Pole regions to his advantage.

Great Circle Mapper
SANtas Global Reach via Great Circle Mapper

Now do not worry if you have never heard about SANta dual  redundant South Pole operations, its one of his better kept secrets. Many organizations  including SANtas partners such as Microsoft that have global mega IT operations  and logistics centers have followed SANtas lead of leveraging various locations  outside of the pacific northwest. Granted like some of his partners and managed service  providers, he does maintain a presence in Washington Columbia river basin which  provides a nice PR among other benefits.

Likewise, many in business as well as those in IT think  that SANta leverages cloud technologies for cost savings or avoidance which is  partially the case. However he also leverages cloud, hosting, managed service provider  (MSP), virtual data centers, virtual operations centers, Xaas, SaaS or SOA technologies,  services, protocols and products that are transparent and complimentary to his own in house resources addressing various business and service  requirement needs.

What this has to do with the holidays and clouds is that  you may not realize how Santa or St. Nick if you prefer (feel free to plug in  whoever you like if Santa or St. Nick does not turn your crank) extensively relies on  flexible and scalable resilient technologies for boosting productivity in a cost effective manner. Some of it is IT related, some of it is not. For example, from the GPS and Radar  along with recently added RNP and RNAV enhanced capabilities to his increasingly  high tech bio fueled powered sleigh, not to mention his information technology  (IT) that powers his global operations, old St Nick has got it together when it  comes to technology.

SANta Bio Fuel Powered Sliegh
SANtas Bio Fuel Powered Sleigh

The heart or brains of the SANta operation is his global  system operations center (SOC) or network operation center (NOC) that rivals  those seen at NASA among others with multiple data feeds. The SOC is a 24x365 operations function that  covers all aspects from transportation, logistics, distribution, assembly or  packaging, financials back office, CRM, IT and communications among other functions.

SOCs and NOCsSOCs and NOCs
SOCs and NOCs that enable SANta to get those SOCKs above fireplace filled!

Naturally, like the Apollo moon shots whose Grumman built  LEM Lunar lander had to have 100% availability in that to get off of the moon, their  engines only had to fire once, however it had to work 100% of the time! This  thought process is said to have had leveraged principles from SANtas operations  guide where he has one night a year to accomplish the impossible.

I should mention, while I cannot disclose (due to NDA) the  exact locations of the SOCs, data or logistics centers, not to mention the vendors  or the technology being used, I can tell you that they are all around you! The  fully redundant SOCs, data and call centers as well as logistics sites (including  staff, facilities, technology) leverage different time zones for efficiency.

SANtas staff have also found that the redundant SOCs,  part of an approach across Santa entire vast organization has helped to guard  against global epidemics and pandemics including SARs and H1N1 among others by  isolating workers while providing appropriate coverage and availability,  something many large  organizations have since followed.

Carrying through on the philosophy of redundant SOCs, all  other aspects of SANtas operations are distributed yet with centralized coordinated  management, leveraging real-time situation awareness, event and activity  correlation (what we used to call or refer to as AI), cross technology domain  management, proactive monitoring and planning yet with ability for on the spot decision  making.

What this means is that the various locations have ability  to make localized decisions on the spot. However coordinated with primary  operations or mission control to streamline global operations focus on  strategic activity along with exceptions handling to be more effective.  Thus it is not fully distributed nor fully centralized, rather a hybrid in  terms of management, technologies and the way they work.

For example, to handle the diverse applications, there  are some primary large processing and data retention facilities that backup,  replicate information to other peer sites as well as smaller regional remote  office branch offices close to where information services are needed. To say  the environment is highly virtualized would be an understatement.

Likewise, optimization is key not just to keep costs low  or avoid overheating some of SANtas facilities that are located in the Arctic  and Antarctic regions that could melt the ice cap; they are also optimized to  keep response time as low as possible while boosting productivity.

Thus, SANta has to rely on very robust and diverse communications  networking leveraging LAN, SAN, MAN, WAN, POTS and PANs among other technologies.  For example, his communications portfolio is said to involves landlines (copper  and optical), RF including microwave and other radio based commutations supporting  or using 3G, 4G, MPLS, SONET/SCH, xWDM, Microwave and Free space optics among  others.

SANtas networking and communications elves are also said  to be working with 5G and 100GbE multiplexed on 256 lambda WDM trunk circuits  in non core trunk applications. Of course given the airborne operations, satellite  and ACARS are a must to avoid over flying a destination while remaining in  positive control during low visibility. Note that Santa routinely makes more  CAT 3+ low visibility landings than most of the worlds airlines, air freight companies  combined.


SANtas Sliegh Navigation and GUI Displays
SANtas has GUI and Management Displays in his Sleigh

My sources also tell me that SANta has virtual desktop capability  leveraging PCoIP and other optimizations on his primary and backup sleighs  enabling rapid reconfiguration for changing workload conditions. He also is  fully equipped with onboard social media capabilities for updates via twitter,  Face book and Linked In among others designed by his chief social networking elf.

Consequently, given the vast amount of information needed  to support his operations from CRM, shipping, tracking not to mention  historical and profiling needs, transactional volumes both on the data as well  as voice and social media networks dwarf the stock market trading volume.

Feeding SANtas vast organizations are online highly available  robust databases for transactions purposes, reference unstructured data  material including videos, websites and more. Some of which look hauntingly familiar  given those that are part of SANtas eWorld Helpers initiative including: SearsAmazon, NetFlix, Target, Albertsons, Staples, EMC, Wall mart, Overstock, RadioShackLandsend, Dell, HP, eBay, Lowes, Publix, emusic, Riteaid and Supervalu among others (Im just sayin...).

The actual size of SANta information repository is a  closely regarded secret as is the exact topology, schema and content structure. However it is understood that on peak days SANtas highly distributed high performance, low latency data  warehouse sees upwards of 1,225PBytes of data added, one that is rumored  to make Larry Ellison gush with excitement over its growth possibilities.

How does SANta pull this all off is by leveraging virtualization,  automation, efficient and enabling technologies that allow him and elves (excuse  me, associates or team members) to be more productivity in their areas of focus  that is the envy of the universe.

Some of their efficiency is measured in terms of:

  • How many packages can be processed per elf with minimum  or no mistakes
  • Number of calls, requests, inquiries per day per  elf in a friendly and understandable manner
  • Knowing who has been naughty or nice in the blink  of an eye including historical profiles
  • Virtual machines (VM) or physical machine (PM)  servers managed per team member
  • Databases and applications, local and remote,  logical and physical per team member
  • Storage in terms of PByte and Exabyte managed to  given service level per team member
  • Network circuits and bandwidth with fewest  dropped packets (or packages) per member
  • Fewest misdirected packages as well as aborted  landings per crew
  • Fewest pounds gained from consumption of most  milk and cookies per crew

From how many packages can be processed per hour, to the number  of virtual servers per person, PBytes of data managed per person, network  connections and circuits per person, databases and applications per person to  takes and landings (SANta has the top of the list for this one), they are all  highly efficient and effective.

Likewise, SANta leverages the partners in his SANtas  eWORLD Helpers initiative network to help out where of course he looks for value;  however value is not just lowest price per VM, lowest cost per TByte or cost  per bandwidth. For SANta it is also very focused on performance, availability,  capacity and economic efficiency not to mention quality with an environmentally  friendly green supply chain.

By having a green supply chain, SANta leverages from a responsible,  global approach that also makes economic sense on where to manufacture and  produce or procure products. Contrary to growing popular belief, locally  produced may not always be the most environmentally as well as economically  favorable approach. For example (read more here), instead of growing flowers  and plans in western Europe where they are consumed, a process that would  require more energy for heat, lights, not to mention water and other resources.  SANta has bucked the trend instead relying on the economics and environmental  benefit of leveraging flowers and plants grown in warmer, sunnier climates.

Granted and rest assured, SANta still has an army of elves  busily putting things together in his own factories along with managing IT  related activities in a economically positive manner.

SANta has also leveraged this thinking to his data and information  and communications networks leveraging sites such as in the arctic where solar  power can be used during summer months along with cooling economizers to offset the impact of batteries, workload is shifted around the world as  needed. This approach is rumored to be the envy of the US EPA Energy Star for  Server, Storage and Data Center crew not to mention their followers.

How does SANta make sure all of the data and information  is protected and available? Its a combination of best practices, techniques, technologies including hardware, software, data protection management tools, disk, dedupe, compression,  tape and cloud among others.
Rest assured, if it is in the technology buzzword bingo  book, it is a good bet that it has been tested in one of SANtas facilities, or,  partner sites long before you hear about it even under a strict NDA discussion  with one of his elves (opps, I mean supplier partners).

When asked of the importance of his information and data  networks, resources and cloud enabled highly virtualized efficient operations SANta  responded with a simple:

Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good  night!

As you sit back and relax, reflect, recreate, recoup or  recharge, or whatever it is that you do this time of the year, take a moment to  think about and thank all of SANtas helpers. They are the ones that work behind  the scenes in SANtas facilities as well as his partners or suppliers, some in  the clouds, some on or underground to make the worlds largest single event day  (excuse me, night) possible! Or, is this SANta and cloud thing all just one big  fantasy?

Happy and safe holidays or whatever you want to refer to  it as, best wishes and thanks!

BTW: FTC disclosure information can be found here!

Greg on Break
Me on a break during tour SANta site tour

Cheers and seasons greetings gs

Greg Schulz - Author The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)
twitter @storageio