My University Email Stored in a Shipping Container?

Feb 23 2011

I work at a campus that recently chose google hosted apps for email, calendaring, documents, etc… It was truly a game-changer for students and staff. As if we traded in a Datsun truck for a Porche 911.

All the more reason to be intrigued with these “did you know” style info graphics about Google in general.

Particularly interesting was this statement about shipping containers at Google’s data centers:

Google's data centers are now housed in normal shipping containers,with the servers in each powered by standard 12 volt batteries if the power fails.

Curious, I found this video tour of a Google container data center:

At first, I was simply curious about the shipping containers themselves, but the electrical and cooling systems of the facility are very impressive. My father is an electrician in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and I’ve spent my fair share of summers bending conduit and running wire. Even for someone familiar with industrial power configurations, the sheer scale and magnitude of those electrical systems is difficult to grasp.

And that’s just one tour, of ONE facility. How many of these data centers does google have?

As of 2008, “If you include data centers that are under construction, Google has 19 locations in the US where they operate data centers, 12 in Europe, one in Russia, one in South America, and three in Asia. ..According to Google’s earnings reports, they spent $1.9 billion on data centers in 2006, and $2.4 billion in 2007”

world map of google data centers

As to the safety and integrity of google-stored data:

How do you know if your disaster recovery solution is as strong as you need it to be? It’s usually measured in two ways: RPO (Recovery Point Objective) and RTO (Recovery Time Objective). RPO is how much data you’re willing to lose when things go wrong, and RTO is how long you’re willing to go without service after a disaster.

..For Google Apps customers, our RPO design target is zero, and our RTO design target is instant failover. We do this through live or synchronous replication: every action you take in Gmail is simultaneously replicated in two data centers at once, so that if one data center fails, we nearly instantly transfer your data over to the other one that’s also been reflecting your actions.

This post reeks of an advertisement for google apps, but its even less honorable than that. I just wanted to brag.


A video every university IT manager should watch: Dumping Campus Email for Gmail.

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I Have This Duty, to Respond to Students

Feb 16 2011

One of my guilty pleasures is watching the old Cosmos series. Carl Sagan was, well, a captivating hero of science.

Even after super stardom though, Sagan was actively involved in recruiting students to his academic department at Cornell. Writing letters. Giving lab tours. Driving kids to the bus station.

More discussion on Metafilter.

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Obvious Truths about Giving

Jan 05 2011

Two things happened to me yesterday. 

ONE: I got caught up for an hour or so, captivated by this conversation on reddit surrounding the homeless man with the golden voice, and in particular the outpouring of public support he’s received in the last 24 hours. Someone ponied up $15,000 in salary money for a radio station to employ him with. The Cleveland Cavaliers offered him a job and a home. Tomorrow he’s being flown for an interview on the Today Show.

The newest Communication Arts Annual landed on my desk, which contained a thought provoking article by DK Holland titled “Being Human”. In it, she reflects on the human trait of generosity, and describes the circumstances most suitable to triggering it.

Believe it or not, people are fairly altruistic – that is, if they can see the person, the individual.  Studies show that, when given a choice, most people will give more to another person than is needed or requested – even if it’s a stranger.  When the plea is to help thousands in dire need, the individual becomes a statistic, and empathy can become apathy.  We need to see a face.  And preferably touch a hand, hear a voice, smell a person.

…Humans cultivate empathy by making meaningful, quality connections with other living things.  When information is presented in a compelling and creative way in any venue, neurons start firing, emotions ignite the imagination.  Any place where people congregate presents such an opportunity.

It is a general reminder for me to focus less on tools and technology. Though these tools enable great stories to spread like wildfire, they mean nothing in the absence of meaningful messaging. A ship carrying useless cargo.
Our job is to make people care. Don’t be boring.


Tell me a story.

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The Worst Client Ever

Dec 07 2010

The unfortunate recipient of a lousy haircut will stand up, pay the barber, and leave.  The barber knows this.  While he cares about quality, the sheer volume of clientele gives him a measure of decisive confidence.

It is only when the barber is forced to cut his own hair, that he becomes timid.  For weeks and months to come, he’ll be forced to walk around and live with the consequences.

As a web designer, client work is relatively painless, as you’re somewhat detached. The toughest client to please, as a web designer, is yourself.  In fact, I can think of several web agencies who have hired, OTHER web agencies to design and build their web presence, as the agency is simply too close to their own subject matter, and too invested in the results to objectively design for themselves within any kind of acceptable time frame.

It is with this timidness that I have gone about designing web templates for my university.  Keenly aware that I and dozens if not hundreds of my workmates will be forced to live with the results for an extended period of time, I have been timid, and cautious.

Additional Reading:

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Missouri State’s Great Interactive Map: A Look Under the Hood

Jun 03 2010

Last month while researching (poking around) for campus map inspiration, I came across Missouri State’s interactive map, which uses the Google Maps API:

missouri state interactive google map

The reach of this particular interactive map doesn’t end with the browser/desktop.  It extends into mobile versions for iPhone and Android:

missouri state mobile map app

There are of course, other institutions integrating their mapping projects with Google, and I will list them at the bottom of this post.  But what I most appreciate about Missouri State’s map, is the nice video that Chad Killingsworth (@chadhikes) and the fine folks at the Office of Web and New Media put together about the project:

Campus Map Video

While the video provides a nice overview, it was obviously produced for a general audience.  As a college web guy, I want the deleted scenes, the nerdy behind the curtain stuff,  the directors cut.   And Chad has given that to us, in the form of several informative blog posts:

(in chronological order)

Not only that, but Chad is giving a presentation called: Making your Campus Map Mobile Friendly at a Penn State Web Conference on June 8.  I wish I could be attend.  Zeldman and Brad J Ward are keynote speakers.

More on Chad’s “mobile maps” presentation:

Using the Google Maps V3 API for custom maps meant to display on iPhones or Android devices as well as the resources necessary to build an effective Campus Map.

Users more and more expect all of your sites to function on their mobile devices. When it comes to maps, they expect them to be interactive and useful on their mobile devices. When a visitor shows up at your parking lot, how do you get them to your admissions office or event location? I will also cover how can you manage a large number of buildings/locations within the confines of a mobile screen.

Leaning how to craft something and doing it well, is a good thing. Extra Extra bonus points for sharing your knowledge. Thanks Chad.

A list of other universities using similar Google’fied maps:

Oregon State:

Towson University:

Rice University:


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