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Science and Technology

Exploradio: Inside the Cloud
The new AT&T Akron data center feeds the wireless world with power hungry infrastructure
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
(left to right )AT&T Vice President and General Manager Larry Evans, AT&T Ohio President Tom Pelto and Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder discuss the AT&T data center in Akron on June 6. Former Gov. Ted Strickland and Democratic law-makers were on hand July 2010 to kick off the expansion.
Courtesy of Bruce Ford, AT&T
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In The Region:

One third of American adults now own a smart phone, according to a recent Pew study.  

We talk, text…send pictures, but seldom consider how of these bits of data travel from here to there.  The answer is in the basement of a non-descript building in downtown Akron.

In this week’s edition of Exploradio:  a glimpse at the infrastructure powering the wireless world.

Exploradio: Inside the Cloud

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The cloud is loud.

Constant white noise blows through the rows of computers in the chilly basement of AT&T’s downtown Akron data center.

Upstairs are sunlit offices, but down here in the data-cloud, wires rule -- and they like air conditioning.

It’s one of nine facilities nationwide that  the company is rushing to upgrade in order to handle the increasing flood of wireless and mobile traffic, up 8,000 percent since the iPhone debuted three years ago.

AT&T officials and Republican lawmakers are on hand to mark the end of the 120 million dollar expansion in Akron.  One year ago Democratic Governor Ted Strickland was on hand to announce the start of the project.

AT&T Ohio President Tom Pelto credits the 2010 Telecom Modernization Act for the expansion  –

“This is tangible, I think concrete proof if you will, that the investment that was promised at that time did follow.” 

The Telecom Act raised rates on traditional phone customers to help pay for the mobile expansion.  In the miles of wires at the Akron data center, there’s not one landline.

Powering the Cloud 

Operations manager Mark Chamberlin uses a giant suction cup to lift one of the floor tiles deep inside the racks.

He exposes a tangle of blue wires a foot thick snaking through the sub-floor –

“If you see blue cable, that’s customer data. Green cable, that’s just low speed connection…you also feel all the cooling that’s going under there.”

That cool air seeping out from hole is one of the main reasons AT&T decided to build the data center in Akron.  The former Ohio Bell building is right next to a FirstEnergy substation. 

Enormous electricity loads are needed to run and cool the facility  -  power fed directly from the adjacent trunk lines.

John Forret is the data center manager -  

“For the power rooms themselves, we have two existing power rooms, we’re pulling about 3,000 apiece for those…”

Three thousand amps . A typical clothes dryer pulls about 10 amps. 

But the real power draw, more than half of the electricity used at the facility goes to the enormous cooling units.

Ten of the van-sized evaporative coolers are needed to keep the data center computers happy. 

“Basically, what it does is send all the cold air under floor, up through, and all the return air is up above that; it sucks down through.”

The Next Generation 

Smart phones are not just for talking and text. -  That’s so 3G. 

All this infrastructure is part of AT&T’s new 4G network.   Newer, faster phones promise warp-speed downloading of movies, music, and apps.  

Cell phones have not only replaced landlines, smart phones are replacing computers, with data and programs stored in the ‘cloud’ -- the wireless universe powered in part, from the basement of the Akron data center.

Related Links & Resources
Gov. Strickland opens AT&T project July 2010

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