Yahoo Plans $500 Million Data Center Expansion

An aerial view of the Yahoo Computing Coop data center in Lockport, N.Y. Yahoo has announced plans to invest $500 million in additional data centers.

Yahoo plans to invest at least $500 million in further expanding its data center infrastructure and shifting its operations to newer, highly-efficient infrastructure. The company is also preparing a new data center design for a series of next-generation facilities it plans to build in 2012 and beyond, in which much of the infrastructure will operate with minimal UPS and generator support.

“We are in essence rewiring the entire infrastructure of Yahoo,” said Scott Noteboom, the head of data center operations at Yahoo. “We’ve gained approval to invest half a billion dollars to build new data centers. We’ll be migrating the entire footprint of Yahoo to these more efficient facilities.”

The announcement is the latest step in Yahoo’s ongoing effort to retool its infrastructure and reduce the cost of operating its data centers. Last year it unveiled the Yahoo Computing Coop, an innovative design using factory-built components and relying upon fresh air rather than mechanical cooling. The design has been hailed for its efficiency and use of hydro-electric power.

“All this efficiency is cool,” said Noteboom, who announced the expansion Thursday at the DataCenterDynamics New York conference. “But we’re saving our company $200 million a year. At our scale, these (new data centers) have a three-year payback.”

Five Active Data Center Projects

Yahoo currently has five active data center construction projects, including expansions at existing U.S. data centers in Buffalo, Omaha and Washington state and new facilities in Singapore and Avenches, Switzerland. These will be followed in 2012 by a new phase of construction, most if which will involve additional phases at its existing data center campuses.

The new Yahoo facility in Quincy, Washington will be its most efficient data center yet, further refining the Yahoo Computing Coop (YCC) concept that has yielded a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.08 for its facility in Lockport, New York. The new data center in Switzerland will be the first implementation of the YCC design in a retrofit of an existing building. The previous YCC designs have all been ground-up “greenfield” construction.

These projects have helped Yahoo migrate much of its infrastructure out of older data center facilities, many of which were leased from third parties. The new phase of growth will continue that process.

Yahoo will also deploy about 20 “edge pods,” smaller data centers that can store content closer to users. Yahoo currently has 17 edge pods, but will expand that number to 38 as part of its new construction. These facilities would support caching and content delivery.

Noteboom said Yahoo can now build new data center space at a cost of less than $5 million per megawatt of electric power, well below the industry average of $9 million to $15 million, meaning that the next phase of growth could add nearly 100 megawatts of capacity to Yahoo’s data center footprint.

The Flex Tier Data Factory

Noteboom also outlined Yahoo’s plans for its next-generation design, known as the Flex Tier Data Factory. Noteboom said the design will be a radical departure from traditional data centers that target a particular reliability tier using the four-level Tier System from the Utime Institute, which has been a leading tool in the design of enterprise data centers.

Yahoo’s current data centers are the equivalent of Tier III facilities, with some elements typical of of Tier II and Tier IV sites. The Flex Tier design will be “our data center of the future,” said Noteboom. “Most of it will be less than Tier I, and some of it will be beyond Tier IV.”

Yahoo has been exploring scenarios in which it would build data centers without generators or UPS, and use its network to route around any power outages that occur at individual facilities, shifting production to other data centers. The Flex Tier will segment the data center into zones with different levels of reliability (a concept previously embraced by HP) , with much of the infrastructure running on conditioned utility power while a core group of critical services have highly redundant UPS and generator support.

Archived mail, which is rarely accessed and stored in several locations on the Yahoo network, is an example of a service that can survive a local outage at a single data center and operate with little or no UPS support. At the other end of the spectrum are Yahoo’s core network infrastructure and data center tools, which would manage the shifting of capacity between data centers if an outage occurs. Because of their critical role in managing outages, these assets can never go down, Noteboom said.

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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. These are really huge investments, and thus risks, that these businesses are taking. No one is certain right now whether or not cloud storage is going to be embraced or feared. We've already drifted so far away from actual media ownership I'm not sure how much more can be tolerated. People now purchase low quality MP3s instead of CDs or vinyl records, which they can keep with them and do whatever they please. And now with Apple ramping up the iCloud for release, the MP3s we purchase will literally not even be in our own possession... we'll just trust that Apple's system will always be up and always available to stream these intangible sound waves that we don't even really own. It's a strange world... Perhaps if there were only a few options, but instead, the market is saturated with online storage options that it can be a chore just to figure out what suits your needs best... Do I need SSL? Do I need 100 gigs or 15 gigs? Things are much simpler when all of the control is in our hands. I for one will tread lightly and not jump in head first.

  2. matt graham

    shame on yahoo for getting around to it so late