The ultimate IT kluge: Running IT operations at the South Pole

I just finished reading Rob Mitchell's interview with Henry Malmgren, an IT manager who oversees a rather unusual shop: The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. When I worked at Network World at the beginning of this decade, I interviewed one of his predecessors (see Extreme Networking: VoIP smokes at minus 100 degrees in Antarctica), and it was interesting to see that the data links to the outside world are still based on limited satellite connectivity provided by three 70s-era birds. However, Malmgren and his group have since kluged a backup Internet connection powered by the Iridium network:

In the past year we put up a really cool system where we're using the Iridium satellite network. We have 12 modems mulitiplexed together and have a total of 28.8K connectivity 24 x 7. Nobody thought it would work. Nobody ever thought we would have 24 x 7 connectivity at the South Pole. Now that's our last resort. When our broadband satellites are down we switch to the Iridium system automatically.

Cooling also presents a unique set of challenges:

You would think that at the South Pole cooling wouldn't be a problem but with the amount of heat we generate [in the data center] getting rid of it actually can be quite an issue. We try to pipe some that heat to other parts of the building to recover it. The data center in the old station just had a hole cut in the wall with a fan [to the outside] to cool the systems. Sometimes you'd be sitting there in a parka trying to get something done.

But the best quote relates to an unusual tradition called the "300 Club" that the team observes when temperatures drop to 100 degrees below zero. Read the interview to see how to join.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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