Yahoo Computing Coop: Shape of Things to Come?

An aerial view of the Yahoo data center in Lockport, N.Y.

Yes, they really do look like huge chicken coops. But for Yahoo, the savings generated by the new Yahoo Computing Coop will be anything but chicken feed.

The Yahoo Computing Coop (YCC) is the culmination of a five-year effort to completely rethink the company’s data center design. While rivals at Google and Microsoft have gotten more attention for data center innovations, the Yahoo team has been quietly refining its approach to building faster, cheaper data centers that will be dramatically more efficient than previous facilities.

The company’s new data center in Lockport, New York is the first implementation of the YCC. The first phase of the project is in the commissioning stage, and is expected to enter production next month. The data center operates with no chillers, and will require water for only a handful of days each year. Yahoo projects that the new facility will operate at a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.1, placing it among the most efficient in the industry.

Air Handler With Servers Inside
“The building itself is an air handler,” says Scott Noteboom, the Director of Data Center Operations for Yahoo. “The entire building is meant to breathe, and there’s a lot of louvers and dampers to control the airflow.”

The Yahoo Computing Coops are prefabricated metal structures measuring about 120 feet long by 60 feet wide. Each of the three coops has louvers built into the side  to allow cool air to enter the computing area. The air then flows through two rows of cabinets and into a contained center hot aisle, which has a chimney on top. The chimney directs the waste heat into the top of the facility, where it can either be recirculated or vented through the cupola. See A Closer Look at Yahoo’s New Data Center for more photos and video.

If it looks like a chicken coop, it’s because some of the design principles were adapted from …. well, chicken coops. “Tyson Foods has done research involving facilities with the heat source in the center of the facility, looking at how to evacuate the hot air,” said Noteboom. “We applied a lot of similar thought to our data center.”

The Lockport site is ideal for fresh air cooling, with a climate that allows Yahoo to operate for nearly the entire year without using air conditioning for its servers.

Only 9 Days Without Free Cooling
“In Buffalo, there will only be about 212 hours a year where we can’t use free cooling,” said Noteboom, who said the facility will use an evaporative cooling system during those 9 days or so when it is too warm to use fresh air. The buildings were positioned on the Lockport property to allow Yahoo to bring in cool air from either side of the coop, based on the prevailing winds.

“We designed it to so we can control intake from either side of the building, adjusting the percentage of intake (through the louvers),” Noteboom said. “It’s continually monitored and automatically adjusted.

“We have almost completely eliminated traditional mechanical air handling and traditional mechanical cooling,” he added. “We have been working on this since 2005.”

Efficiency Drives Lower Cost
Each of the three YCC wings uses about 3.6 megawatts of power. The rows of cabinets are grouped in 200 kilowatt increments, with each segment supported by a custom rotary UPS from Active Power (ACPW). The result is a project that costs about $5 million per megawatt, said Noteboom. Cooling is a key driver of those economics.

“We are at less than 1 percent of our (energy) cost to cool,” he said. “For every dollar we’re spending, we’re spending one cent to cool.” That’s down from more than 50 percent in some earlier data center designs used by Yahoo.

The prefabricated construction of the YCC allows the data center to come together quickly. “The goal in this design has been to complete the project in six months from dirt,” said Noteboom. “Phase 2 (which will add two more YCC units) is really validating that. We’ll start in May and be completed in November.”

Sustainability has been a major focus for Yahoo, and its Lockport facility has already been praised by Greenpeace for its use of hydro-electric power and overall focus on sustainability. At a time of growing focus on the amount of water used to cool major data centers, Yahoo is using very little water in its Lockport facility.

“The only time we using water is the 212 hours a year where we need to use the cooling system,” said Noteboom. “We’ve been really lucky. What’s been good for the environment has been good for business as well.”

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Bob L

    Wick'd cool Yahoo! Now sell the technology to others so we can take advantage of what you have done.

  2. How greatly did the Flywheel based UPSs from Active Power redice the reliability and Yahoo's SLA agreements?

  3. Sal C

    Great Ideas. How are they handling the air quality, possible corrosion and impurity build-up on electronic componects and humidity control ? These are major factors associated with Data Center design.

  4. With all that roof area, are there any plans to add PV panels?

  5. Erik

    Most Excellent! They need to paint some "Yahoo Data Farm" billboards on the roof for the total retro look. Sal C - I would guess that intake filtration is a big part of what they are doing. People say "free cooling" even when powering fans for air exchange since they are not using chillers and the power need is so much less. And they may be using indirect evaporative cooling for those hours a year when they need it. Indirect evap cools air with evaporation and then uses that to cool the air entering the space across a heat exchanger. Not quite as efficient but better air quality.

  6. Greg Surfas P.E.

    If it is 95 degrees and 75% Rh in the summer as it will get there, the "coolest" the coops will get is 95 degrees. I think there is something missiong from this equation

  7. Chris

    "I think there is something missiong from this equation" Techies wearing double layer ski jackets?

  8. BA

    Reference: [1]

  9. Chris

    "Techies wearing double layer ski jackets?" Moderately increased fan speeds for 200 hours per year.