Q&A: Yahoo Discusses Its Data Centers

Yahoo's Kevin Timmons talks about the company's data center expansion, and Yahoo's energy efficiency initiatives.

Search and news portal Yahoo (YHOO) is a major user of data center space, and is in the midst of a significant expansion of its infrastructure. We recently had an email Q-and-A with Yahoo Vice President of Operations Kevin Timmons, who oversees the company's data centers, and asked about Yahoo's data center growth and energy efficiency initiatives.

What are the factors prompting Yahoo to seek additional data center space?

We’re constantly in expansion mode here, primarily due to simple traffic growth to the site and our efforts to continuously serve our global audience in the best manner possible. We also are continuously looking to consolidate many of our smaller legacy centers into more efficiently designed facilities that are more reliable and more cost effective to operate.

How many data centers does the company have?

We’ve got data centers of varying sizes located around the world. We don’t share the exact number.

Is Yahoo incorporating energy efficiency technologies into its new data centers?

With any new Yahoo! data center project energy efficiency efforts start early on in the process. For example, we spend a tremendous amount of due diligence on site selection in order to locate in a climate that will allow for maximum economization. We strive to operate our centers for a significant portion of any year using ambient air for cooling. In order to do that, we certainly challenge the traditionally accepted temperature and humidity standards and have achieved pretty remarkable results in overall efficiency as a result. We have some patents pending on our cooling technology that virtually eliminates any need for air handling within the data center, again all in the name of energy and cost efficiency.

Finally, we constantly measure our efficiency metrics to ensure that the facilities are operating as they should be. If you do the math, just 0.1 of PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) can mean the difference of up to $500K - $600K of operating expense depending upon your energy pricing. So we watch it closely.

Does Yahoo have plans to use renewable energy sources in its facilities?

We definitely keep renewable energy sources in mind when we’re selecting data center locations. A good example is our Quincy, Washington site which uses energy which is generated from almost 100% hydropower sources. We’re pretty proud of that.

What factors does Yahoo consider when deciding where to locate its data centers?

We’ve got a fairly well-established process around data center site selection which takes about 30 different factors into consideration. Chief among them are all the things that you’d imagine, like energy pricing, area carbon intensity, access to fiber, and state and local incentives. There are other subjective factors that we definitely take into consideration, such as our ability to work with the local community and local officials ,as we truly see Yahoo! as an active part of the communities in which we reside.

State economic development agencies around the country are competing for data center projects. How important are incentives in making decisions about future data centers?

State and local incentives are pretty critical considerations when we’re doing site selection. It’s a great indicator to us when we see local entities going out of their way to attract us to become a part of their community. It not only makes the economics of a particular facility look more attractive, but it also means that we’ll be a valued addition to their community from the start. And that’s good for everyone.

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