Inside the unassuming building that is the data center for Ancestry.com
and other Generations Network
properties, rows and rows of cabinets house the 5,328 servers that hold the Web site, all those indexes and digital images, and users’ family trees.
In all, it’s 2.5 petabytes of data (one petabyte is equivalent to 283,000 DVDs).
A lot of security protects that data. A guard watches cameras 24/7. Windows are bulletproof. Sensors monitor windows and doors. The Ancestry.com guy walking us around had to swipe his badge at several doors, then lay his palm in a Mission: Impossible
-like handprint reader to enter the server rooms.
I can’t disclose the location and photographs weren’t permitted (darn it, I forgot my hidden-camera lapel pin), but the folks at Ancestry.com sent these approved images:
Some rows of server-filled cabinets:
Still more servers:
(This makes me feel insecure about the jumble of cords shoved behind my TV stand.)
There’s 807,000 Kw hours of power running through the cords per
month—about the amount used by 1,076 average homes over the same time
period. An elaborate air conditioning system keeps the servers from
If things do get too hot and the smoke detector sounds an alarm, all life forms have two minutes to scram before a fire-suppression chemical hisses into the room and starts to suck out the oxygen.
An automated system reroutes traffic around servers that are getting overheated or full, then alerts the techies who can replace those machines. Batteries can run the place for an hour should a power failure occur; huge generators can keep it going after that.
Regular disk backups are transferred to tape and whisked weekly to a Granite Mountain disaster-proof storage vault (near the one where FamilySearch keeps its master microfilms).
Ancestry.com’s monthly hosting costs run $300,000—$143,000 for the space, $112,000 for power and the rest for bandwidth. That’s part of what you’re paying for in your subscription. (A larger chunk of your subscription fee goes to adding new content and upgrading current content.)