Voices from Clients
Case Studies

Internet Initiative Japan Inc. (IIJ)

To meet the growing demand for cloud computing
IIJ set up Japan’s first container-module-based data center in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.

In April 2011, Internet Initiative Japan Inc. (IIJ) inaugurated the Matsue Data Center Park, Japan’s first shipping-container-based data center. It was a next-generation data center solution with free cooling architecture offering low costs, high server density, and easy scalability—indispensable features in the age of cloud computing. CM Plus Corporation undertook the project and construction management on behalf of IIJ. In the following interview, IIJ president Koichi Suzuki discusses the project’s purpose and the company’s plans for the future.

Pursuit of new challenges forms the core of IIJ’s values

Ever since its inception, IIJ has been on the leading edge of Japan’s Internet business. The containerized data center that you’ve built was the first of its kind in Japan. How was this project conceived?

  • 株式会社インターネットイニシアティブ(IIJ)代表取締役社長鈴木幸一氏

    Internet Initiative Japan Inc. (IIJ)
    President (now Chairman & CEO)
    Koichi Suzuki

  • 松江データセンターパーク(CG)

    Matsue Data Center Park (an image by computer graphics)

Suzuki::The idea of a containerized data center had been floating around for several years, and it seemed to have many advantages, including lower power consumption, ease of scaling, and natural air cooling. So we embarked on R&D on this concept two years ago in cooperation with an air conditioning company and a shipping container manufacturer. There were a few obstacles, however, including the high cost of land acquisition in Japan and sizeable electricity bills (which could be as high as 60% of the operating cost of a data center). Since air conditioning accounts for a large part of the electricity use, we focused on pulling cool outside air into the facility and finally succeeded in bringing the power usage effectiveness (PUE) to a satisfactory level. That was how this Matsue Data Center Park project got off the ground.

I can see why they say IIJ is farsighted.

Suzuki:Well, I wouldn’t call it farsighted—just adventurous, I guess. (Laughter.) I mean, whenever I get a sense that things will go in a certain direction, I’ll follow that instinct and go all in. Of course it’s hard to tell when such a prediction will come true, and Japanese people are generally wary of trying new things, but IIJ is not like others. The reason why this company exists at all is because we love doing things no one has done before. Admittedly, any new solutions are hard to sell, especially to Japanese customers. American clients readily show interest in new things and want to try them, whereas Japanese clients typically ask, “What other companies are using them?” But where’s the fun in doing business unless we get to do something new? So we built the first containerized data center in Japan and are also pursuing many other new projects.

I gather you also came up with the idea of cloud computing quite a while ago?

Suzuki:Yes, we had a go at cloud computing as early as in the 90s. We thought the time would come when companies no longer needed to keep data processing systems in-house and built one of the earliest data centers. But it was too far ahead of its time to become a commercial success. It’s really difficult to match an innovation with market needs. I tend to push innovations before the time is ripe; I can show you a long list of failed projects. (Laughter.) But I have a feeling that the Matsue Data Center Park will mesh with the customers’ needs. Its commercial outcome still remains to be seen, but technically the project has put us far ahead of our competitors.

It’s remarkable that you had foreseen the arrival of the cloud computing age more than ten years ago.

Suzuki:In my opinion, the change was too slow to come. Once an idea that could shape the future is recognized in the U.S., it takes just a year or so to build a market around it, whereas it often takes as long as six or seven years to do the same in Japan because people here are on the whole overcautious.

IIJ’s technological prowess is widely known. Can you speak about that?

Suzuki:Well, IIJ and NTT Docomo were founded in the same year, and at the time we felt we could easily outgrow NTT Docomo, but it didn’t work out that way. It was partly my fault, because I talked NTT into entering the Internet business. (Laughter.) We even offered them technical assistance to create OCN, which grew into the largest Internet service provider in Japan. NTT Docomo called us the “father of OCN” at the time, but it was meant to be derisive because they robbed us blind in some market segments. The same thing happened with NEC’s BIGLOBE and other Internet service providers: they all thrived by piggybacking on our service package. Still, all of us at IIJ were proud to be pioneers of the Internet world. The PPP dial-up protocol was among the many technologies that IIJ developed. It is an epoch-making technology in the history of the Internet and is recognized as such in overseas tech communities, although it is much underappreciated in Japan. IIJ’s technologies have certainly helped Japan carve a large share of the global Internet market, but whether those technologies equally helped IIJ’s business is questionable.

Forming a nationwide network of containerized data centers

Are any other firms besides IIJ planning to build containerized data centers?

Suzuki:I’m sure there are others, but as far as I know their main focus is still on building urban data centers. What they should realize is that the scale of server use has grown by orders of magnitude, with some companies using as many as 10,000 servers each. Given this trend, it would be increasingly difficult to keep housing all servers in an urban data center, and it can be a very expensive proposition for customers too.

So containerized data centers are one of your solutions to bring down the cost?

Suzuki:Once container-module-based data centers have been built across Japan and linked together in a network, your servers can be virtualized and their physical whereabouts no longer matter. Virtualization also makes good sense from the viewpoints of disaster recovery and business continuity. For these reasons, more companies will opt to distribute rather than concentrate their server capabilities. They will realize it is more sensible to rent rather than own servers.

  • A view of the Matsue Data Center Park

  • An “IZmo“ IT container module (right) and an air-conditioning
    module (left) designed and developed by IIJ.
    The system significantly reduces the power consumption
    level by using outside air to cool the containers.

Why did you choose to locate your first containerized data center in Matsue?

Suzuki:Matsue is the capital of Shimane Prefecture, and the city is in a special economic zone where preferential electricity rates apply. It faces the Japan Sea rather than the Pacific Ocean, which means the tsunami risk is relatively low. Besides, the local sake and seafood are excellent. (Laughter.) All these considerations went into our decision to build the data center in Matsue. One of the keys to reducing the cost of this project was electricity, which is why we had set our eyes on places like Matsue and Fukui from the beginning. In both cities, land can be procured relatively cheaply and with large potential for expansion. Server demands often surge unexpectedly, but urban data centers cannot be easily expanded on demand as it requires constructing new buildings. In contrast, containerized data centers can be scaled out in a matter of two or three months. All you need to do is hook up servers in containers and transport them to the site. The Matsue Data Center Park satisfied all three key requirements: namely, scalability of the site; short lead time; and cheap electricity.

More data center parks to be built in Japan

Demand for servers is surpassing supply in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, is it not?

Suzuki:True, demand for servers is now higher than ever, especially because many data centers are operating below capacity due to the short supply of electricity. At present, the Matsue Data Center Park has only two container modules, but it will be increased to seven by September. If a comparable scaling were to be attempted at an urban data center, it would easily take a few years, which is a big disadvantage. We will continue to expand our operations in Matsue as demand grows. I might also transfer the cloud computing capabilities of our conventional data centers to Matsue.
At present, up to 24 containers can be installed at the Matsue site. One container can hold either nine or 10 racks (i.e., 360 or 400 servers, respectively), so the maximum server capacity is 9,600. Using this capacity to our advantage, we can reduce the operating cost and offer data center services at more reasonable fees.

So the location of servers can affect service fees too?

Suzuki:Yes, because electricity costs differ by locality, as do construction and land procurement costs. We are also planning to build a network of data centers so that, should an accident occur at one data center, others can cover for it without disrupting service. Plans to build similar data center parks elsewhere are already underway. We intend to construct several such data center parks in Japan, which will be energy efficient and ideal for a cloud computing environment. These will be connected to form a network and used as one virtual data center.

I imagine you’ve had untold difficulties in setting up the Matsue Data Center Park because it was the first of its kind in Japan.

Suzuki:Not really. It was challenging, of course, because we were the first to do it in Japan, but we were determined to solve any problems at hand, and we did. In particular, we set the goal of achieving world-class PUE levels because development engineers love intriguing challenges.

I hear a leading American container module manufacturer sent representatives to Matsue who observed the site and exclaimed that no commercial application like this existed anywhere else in the world.

Suzuki: I know some containerized data centers are owned by big corporations like Google for internal use. But ours is probably one of very few in the world that are used for commercial services. As we continue with our project, I hope to keep benefiting from the experience and expertise of CM Plus.

Please tell us why you chose CM Plus as your business partner.

Please tell us why you chose CM Plus as your business partner.

Suzuki:Your president, Mr. Togashi, used to work for a leading engineering firm. We hired this company to manage construction of what was going to be the largest data center in Asia, and Mr. Togashi was the project manager. He skillfully controlled the cost and schedule of this enterprise while overseeing the work by the general contractor. The location of this center was in the Kohoku area in northern Yokohama because some of the best network resources were available there. In fact, major data centers were routinely built in urban areas at that time.

The general contractor did a great job indeed, but Mr. Togashi’s contribution was simply fantastic. As a result, we were able to build the finest data center in Japan in 2002. The building was not a bleak warehouse, but commanded a view of the surrounding greenery and was friendly to the employees. The center cost us dozens of billions of yen to build, but it was—and still is—one of the most advanced data centers in existence. No one except Mr. Togashi could boast of having managed such a large data center project at the time. Our company built several more data centers since then, each one supervised by Mr. Togashi. We came to trust him implicitly, and when he founded his own company, we chose to partner with CM Plus.

Installation of a container module. Instead of using a large crane that can be costly, IIJ opted for a unique method of sliding the container over the concrete foundation using powered jigs.

What was the role you expected CM Plus to play in the Matsue project?

Suzuki:We have the know-how of planning and designing systems, but we lack the engineering expertise to manage a construction project. I knew we should ask for professional help, so we hired CM Plus to take charge of the project and construction management. We expected the arrangement would result in beneficial cost readjustments, and indeed we saved quite a lot thanks to CM Plus. Moreover, all those who worked on this project—including the general contractor—cooperated with our cost-cutting efforts without complaints.

Is it true you yourself approached CM Plus by phone?

Suzuki:Yes, I called the company as soon as the Matsue Data Center Park project got started because we needed professional assistance. But apparently the person who initially took my call had no idea that I was president of IIJ. (Laughter.)

How do you rate CM Plus’s services for the project in Matsue? What kind of roles do you expect us to play as the project moves ahead?

Suzuki:Oh, you’ve done an excellent job. IIJ will build many more data centers, not only containerized ones but also ones that involve diverse technologies and usage patterns, which will require different types of infrastructure and facilities. For instance, the standard data center power requirement per rack used to be 2 kVA, whereas today 8 kVA is the norm. So CM Plus’s wealth of experience and expertise will continue to be essential. We can ask larger engineering firms for assistance, of course, but often it is difficult to put a face on their services. In a company like IIJ, we would much rather work with someone we can interact personally rather than those who are capable but detached and impersonal. Since the IT sector ultimately depends on the infrastructure industry, we want CM Plus to remain our partner in future projects.

Lastly, what other goals do you intend to pursue going forward?

Suzuki:Container modules are not the definitive answer to the data center problem. Exploring other possibilities to find an optimal solution will be most exciting. Recently, we announced a novel authentication method in which a medical image is broken down into parts and stored in several data centers. The original image can only be reproduced when all the parts are reassembled. This method requires a database management technology that instantly puts together distributed data to reconstruct an image. Storing and reassembling distributed data is something IIJ is very good at, and we plan to market this technology widely. We also want to make the cloud environment easier to use for businesses, for instance by improving the storage interface. The challenge is to identify what kind of data center is best suited for this task. Assuming that any necessary data can be instantly retrieved and assembled over the network, what would be the best place to store the actual data? A question like this can fundamentally alter the concept of a data center. We want to find the optimum data center solution and provide services that only IIJ can offer.

Profile of Internet Initiative Japan Inc.
President (as of 2011):
Koichi Suzuki (now Chairman & CEO) 
December 1992
Head office
Jimbocho Mitsui Building, 1-105 Kanda Jimbocho
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0051 Japan 
14.295 billion yen (as of end of March, 2011)
82.418 billion yen (consolidated, fiscal year ended March 2011)
Number of employees:
1,944 (consolidated, fiscal year ended March 2011)
Business objectives:
Provision of Internet connectivity and network-related services; network systems construction, operation and maintenance; development and sales of telecommunication equipment, operation of automatic teller machines (ATMs)
U  R  L
Outline of Matsue Data Center Park


Site area: approx. 8,000 m2
Number of IT container modules: up to 24
Number of racks: up to 216
Utility house (fireproof structure):
operations room, electricity and UPS room, telecom machine room, etc.

Power facilities

Capacity: 2,000 kVA Receives electricity supply from two substations belonging to different grids of Chugoku Electric Power
Emergency generator: Diesel powered, capable of quick start-up
UPS: N+1 configuration

Firefighting facilities

Early fire detection system
Nitrogen fire extinguishing system

Security systems

Intruder detection, surveillance camera, and entry-exit monitoring systems
24/7 surveillance by full-time personnel

Construction period

First period: September 2010 to April 2011

Services that CM Plus provides for IIJ’s
Matsue Data Center Park Project
A. Basic planning support
  • Draw up a basic plan
  • Determine the requirements for basic designs and prepare proprietary specifications
  • Support application filing to government agencies
B. Project management/
  • construction management
    • 1. Order placement support
    • ・Prepare RFQ documents
    • ・Evaluate quotes (costs)
    • ・Propose value engineering/cost reduction
    • ・Support work contract and price negotiations
      2. Design management support
    • ・Control detailed designs of the building, HVAC systems, and electrical facilities
    • ・Plan for delivery/installation of IT/air-conditioning modules
      3. Work management
    • ・Support preparation of an overall construction plan
    • ・Control construction work (quality, schedule, cost)
    • ・Control design changes
    • ・Control budget
    • ・Attend factory inspections
    • ・Support and attend delivery/installation of IT/air-conditioning modules
    • ・Support and attend power failure/restoration tests
    • ・Support and attend acceptance/delivery inspections
      4. Facility management support
    • ・Support startup of initial facilities
    • ・Support facility operations
    • ・Support preparation of facility maintenance plans

    * The information contained in this article is those at the time of the interview.