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A coordinator of next-generation platform development for data centers

Yasuo Mogaki

"My goal is to give shape to the optimal platform for data centers"

The use of cloud services by companies and society as a whole is expanding rapidly. Yasuo Mogaki coordinates the development of platforms that will support cloud utilization in the coming years. Here he discusses his efforts towards the development of groundbreaking servers that transcend the bounds of conventional wisdom. He also talks about difficult problems he has tackled, and the responsibilities and conflicts he has to deal with as a project manager. Finally, he shares his thoughts on platform optimization, and the satisfaction that lies at the end of his toils.

Aiming for data center platform innovation.

Photo: Yasuo Mogaki

--What is the current status of the cloud market and data center providers?

The cloud market is expected to continue to experience significant growth. Data center and cloud service providers will face a range of challenges with this expansion of the market, such as an increase in the number of servers to install, the need to secure more floor space, and rising power and operating costs. At the same time, they will be expected to offer the added value of being able to provide cloud environments to users swiftly.

To make user-friendly, stable cloud service environments available to end users at a low cost in the future, we must solve a variety of issues that data center and cloud service providers are confronted with. In light of this, it will be crucial to offer products and solutions aimed at optimizing cloud service platforms, starting with the development of servers designed to conserve power and save space. Other areas that require focus are the offering of service infrastructure for supporting the quick construction of cloud environments, as well as efficient cooling systems for facilities.

--Tell us about NEC's initiatives towards data center platforms.

NEC is focusing on the cloud market as well as the conventional on-premise market, and we launched our NEC Cloud IaaS cloud-based service in April 2014.

We also established the NEC Kanagawa Data Center as a site for this service. With this state-of-the-art data center, NEC is taking the approach of providing hosting services and cloud services to customers, while also acting as an ICT vendor providing the underlying platform.

We sought to take full advantage of our know-how, and thoroughly investigate what form next generation platforms should take to support cloud services in the future. By achieving server density that defies existing conventions and implementing advanced facility cooling technology, we developed a revolutionary platform. This new platform is currently proving its worth as we run it in our own data center to provide actual cloud services.

Photo: Yasuo Mogaki

--What was your role in the development of this new platform?

In creating the platform for NEC's Kanagawa Data Center, I coordinated the overall server development as project manager.

Server development involves a range of processes, such as product planning, design, testing, and manufacturing, so it is a joint effort bringing together a large number of technical experts divided into specialized areas. A project manager must first clarify the skills of technical staff in each area, and establish a system for assigning resources in an optimal manner. My main role is to coordinate large numbers of engineers as we work towards creating a product, overseeing the project as a whole while managing the progress of development by aligning everyone's vectors.

We face a variety of issues on the development side. There are many cases in which they cannot be resolved with my knowledge and experience alone. Consequently, it is imperative that I gather information and ideas from the talented engineers at our development bases nationwide, and identify the optimal solution quickly so that development progresses according to plan.

A project manager is also responsible for controlling the budget, so when making project decisions I must always keep cost and scheduling risks in mind.

Palm-sized high-density servers that overturn existing preconceptions.

Photo: Server ModuleServer Module

--Tell us about the newly-developed servers that are attracting so much attention in this new platform.

One of the most significant features of this platform we developed is the high-density servers called Micro Modular Servers. If you held one of the server modules inside in your hand, I think you'd be surprised at how small it is. More than a mere evolution as a server, we developed these based on the ambitious concept of creating the optimal platform for supporting a myriad of services, including hosting, IaaS, and big data analysis.

NEC has cultivated technology and a proven track record in creating low power, space-saving products, through developing and providing the ECO CENTER servers for data centers. Based on this know-how, for development of the Micro Modular Server we doggedly pursued features such as power savings, compact design, and highly efficient cooling to build a next generation platform for cloud services.

Photo: Low power, highly-integrated Micro Modular ServersLow power, highly-integrated Micro Modular Servers

--Can you go into a bit more detail about the development of these new high-density servers?

As I touched upon a bit earlier, one feature is the high-density servers that break from conventional wisdom. The ability to house up to 46 servers in a chassis with a height of approximately 9 cm (2U) and a depth of 80 cm makes this a revolutionary product without precedent. As you can tell from the picture above, a chassis packed with rows of these servers is a sight to behold.

Because the Micro Modular Server is a scale-out product that raises performance by increasing the number of servers, being able to install as many servers as possible is key. To increase the number of servers installed in racks with limited space and size, it is necessary to make each server smaller.

We were able to design a server so compact it is practically palm sized because of the high-density packaging technology that NEC has at its disposal. Through repeated trial-and-error, including inventive approaches to circuit design and memory, and use of an SSD in place of a larger HDD (hard disk), we achieved an industry-leading level of high-density packaging.

Another technological focus was cooling technology. High-density packaging generates more heat. For the Micro Modular Server, we put considerable effort into cooling and exhaust heat technology to cool all the servers evenly and efficiently when many are installed. We were only able to create this groundbreaking product through the high-level integration of superior high-density packaging technology and cooling technology.

--What do you see as NEC's strengths in creating this groundbreaking high-density server?

First, we have a proven track record and technology accumulated through development of a variety of servers that match the business practices of a range of customers, such as PC servers and servers for data centers.

NEC has also developed technology for cutting-edge supercomputers. Supercomputer are very much a consolidation of high-end technology, including high-density packaging and cooling systems. We utilized the constant flow of supercomputer technology we have been endowed with in developing this server. We also worked together with the supercomputer development team to resolve tricky noise issues stemming from the highly integrated design.

--What kind of jobs have you been involved with at NEC until now?

 I've been engaged in server development ever since joining NEC. At first, my main job was logic design for the LSI cards used in servers. Unlike software development, LSI development is a make-or-break process that doesn't allow for do-overs. When a problem occurs, the lengthy development period and enormous development costs are simply wasted, and the planned shipment time is also delayed. That means testing prototypes of the LSI we developed was tense in the extreme. I went on to carry out a variety of server development as device manager, including the ECO CENTER servers I mentioned earlier.

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