AOL may have seen better days, glory-wise. It might be struggling for a way forward, strategy-wise, in a world where Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others reign as the dominant Web properties. But that hasn’t stopped the company from doing innovative things, at least when it comes to the data center. AOL’s “Nibiru” project has resulted in a low-maintenance data center roughly the size of a large refrigerator or an outhouse—choose your own analogy for something boxy and roughly human-sized. While it can’t serve the processing power of a traditional, massive data center, the “Micro Data Center” consumes far less power and can be installed pretty much anywhere with access to electricity. “Our primary ‘Nibiru’ goal was to develop and deliver a data center environment without the need of a physical building,” Michael Manos, CTO of AOL Services, wrote in a July 5 posting on his blog. “The environment needed to require as minimal amount of physical ‘touch’ as possible and allow us the ultimate flexibility in terms of how we delivered capacity for our products and services.” On top of that, Manos wanted something capable of remote administration, able to fit “into the power envelope of a normal office building,” and operate “anywhere on the planet regardless of temperature and humidity settings.” His team incorporated ideas from ATC, AOL’s “Cloud Only” data center, which requires no full-time or contract staff and comes in pre-racked vendor-integrated deployment models. The result is something (relatively) small and portable. “Obviously the inherent flexibility of the design allows us a greater number of places around the planet we can deploy capacity to and that in and of itself is pretty revolutionary,” Manos wrote. “We are no longer tied to traditional data center facilities or colocation markets. That doesn’t mean we won’t use them, it means we now have a choice.” The ability to widely distribute processing capacity at a relatively low cost could, in turn, help lower AOL’s (or any company’s) operational expenses—after all, a box parked on a concrete slab doesn’t need a lease, or much in the way of support staff; it can be moved to new locations around the country or world as dictated by privacy laws and regulations. Whether AOL makes extensive use of its new, small platform remains to be seen; but the same underlying technology principles could certainly help startups and other companies with a need for flexibility.   Image: Michael Manos/LooseBolts