Data Centers in the Extreme: From Mountain to Sea

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There’s no doubt that site selection is one of the most important decisions when building a data center — availability and cost of power, connectivity, security, weather and topography are all major influencers.

Why then, would anyone put a data center in an abandoned coal mine? And what about in deep inside a mountain? Or in the middle of the desert?

Welcome to data centers in extreme places, which are more practical than you might think.

From full-scale and regional data centers to pre-fabricated and micro data centers, it seems there’s almost no place too extreme to build and deploy.

“Coal mines provide built in protection from the elements,” says Mark Hurley, Executive Manager at Schneider Electric, “You don’t have to build a hardened structure to protect against tornadoes, hurricanes or other storm types; the temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees year round; and you can easily provide physical security at the entrance.”

Disused coal mines are abundant, and have often become environmental hazards. The abandonment has also impacted the surrounding communities, which lost many jobs when the mines closed. So reclaiming them for a new lease on life as data center locations has wider benefits.


Challenges and Benefits

Abandoned coal mines are not perfect, however, as Mark points out, “You have to locate things like generators outside to ensure safety from emissions.”

This goes for data centers inside mountains, too. “You have to core through the mountain to run exhaust stacks,” he says.

Still, in some cases, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

For example, the Green Mountain Data Center in Norway is built 328 feet inside a mountain adjacent to the North Sea, in a former high security NATO ammunition facility. The conditions of this unique site are so conducive, the data center can achieve a carbon footprint close to zero.


Hot Stuff

But what about above ground? Can a data center be optimized to function in the searing heat of the sun?

The Supernap Data Center proves it can. It’s one of the largest data centers in the world, notes Steve Carlini, Sr. Director, Data Center Global Solutions for Schneider Electric. It’s built in the Nevada desert yet guarantees 100% uptime.

“This location is not prone to any natural disasters — earthquakes,floods or fire. Ironically even though it’s in the desert, the climate is cool enough for Supernap to operate 75%+ of time on free cooling,” Steve says.


Seaworthy Information

The trend of data centers in extreme places extends beyond land. In 2009 Google applied for a patent for floating data centers and a barge was built in San Francisco Bay a few years later.

Reports from publications such as The Independent speculated that the vessel would serve as a data center, but in 2013 Google issued a statement dismissing the hubbub, calling it “an interactive space where people can learn about technology.”

From a provider perspective, location matters for all the reasons noted, but it doesn’t affect capabilities or inhibit potential. “A data center, is a data center,” concludes Mark. “We have rugged solutions, and we will build where our customers need to be.”

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