When you hear the phrase “data center” in a conversation, what kind of image does that instill in your mind? Just for fun and reference, here is the definition from Wikipedia: “A data center is a facility used to house computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. It generally includes redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, environmental controls (e.g., air conditioning, fire suppression) and various security devices. Large data centers are industrial scale operations using as much electricity as a small town and sometimes are a significant source of air pollution in the form of diesel exhaust.”
That’s a pretty straightforward definition, but it does not offer any description of what the building itself might look like. As a general rule, most data centers are housed in nondescript buildings—most people would have no idea what might be in these buildings.
However, recently, this does not seem to have been the case for a lot of companies. I thought it was pretty interesting to read about the interesting repurposing of places and things that have been turned into unique modern-day data centers.
The Bunker’s Data Center
Believe it or not, there is actually a company that is called The Bunker that has truly lived up to its name. It owns and operates two data centers in the vicinity of London, England, in former bunkers that have been converted from their original purpose. The first facility, called Ash Bunker, was built between 1949 and 1954 and originally served as a radar control site. The second bunker, the Greenham Common Bunker, was originally designed as a location for launching nuclear missiles.
Cavern Technologies Data Center
Caverns may not be able to withstand a nuclear blast as well as the bunkers, but caverns and mines can offer some potential benefits for companies, and that is exactly what Cavern Technologies figured out and built on. Cavern Technologies’ Kansas City Data Center is located in Lenexa, Kansas, in an old, abandoned limestone mine that sits 125 feet below the surface. From this depth, the facility is completely shielded from the weather. In Kansas, one of the biggest weather concerns is the state’s frequent tornadoes. One of the big advantages of the mine, and specifically with it’s being a limestone mine, is that limestone effectively acts as a geothermal heating and cooling source. It limits exposure to warm air and the cavern itself maintains a consistent 68 degrees Fahrenheit, so this helps to cut down on the cooling costs significantly.
Cavern Technologies is not the only company to build a data center in a cave. Iron Mountain also maintains an underground data center in a 220-foot deep limestone cave near Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania.
Other Notable Places
Here is something that is near my neck of the woods. The city of Altamonte Springs, Florida, has taken an existing 770,000-gallon water tank and converted it into the city’s data center. With concrete walls eight inches thick, the tank provides more than just waterproof IT storage—it offers protection from the weather (particularly the wind). The tank resembles a low dome (leading to its nickname, “the Dome”). If you pull up Altamonte Springs, City Hall, on Google Maps, you will be able to see the dome in the complex.
Would you ever consider building a new data center in a place like the North Pole? Well, it seems that Facebook is the company that has gotten the closest. In the small Swedish city of Luleå, only sixty miles from the Arctic Circle, Facebook has built its third data center—its first outside the United States. A data center of the size required by Facebook generates a lot of heat, and it needs to be cooled off. In Luleå, where the average annual temperature is 1.3 degrees Celsius (34.3 degrees Fahrenheit), this is no problem. Thus, the servers are cooled with outside air instead of electricity. The air in the server hall also needs a certain humidity to avoid static electricity. Water is also found in abundance nearby, in the Lule River. The river provides so much electricity that the local grid has a constant surplus of green, cheap, and stable energy, which suits the power-hungry data center well. According to Fredrik Kallioniemi, managing director at Luleå Science Park, the energy surplus from the river is about fifty percent, which means that the area can easily support more data centers, which he also hopes to attract. The IT development, in combination with the Arctic location, has earned the region the moniker “The Node Pole.”
In some cases, companies can take advantage of construction work that has already been done, and such sites can be purchased for a bargain price. That can help offset the costs to convert the facility to handle the demands of data centers. With that in mind, where would you think about putting your next unique modern-day data center?