A Data Center That Mimics A Mansion

An illustration of a proposed "community-based" data center in Minnetonka, Minnesota (Image: Keith Waters & Associates).

We’ve seen a lot of unusual data center designs over the years. Here’s a new one: a luxury homebuilder in Minnesota wants to build a data center that appears to be a mansion, allowing the commercial building to fit into a residential neighborhood.

The first implementation of this vision is being reviewed by town planners in Minnetonka, Minnesota, where developer Keith Waters & Associates has proposed to build a 36,000 square foot data center for FiberPop, a local startup that wants to build a chain of “community-based data centers.” The $30 million facility would be built on a tract of farmland that previously had been targeted for a subdivision of luxury homes from Toll Brothers.

The building would include an underground data center “bunker” and offices for FiberPop’s staff. The data hall is on a lower level that also includes 60 underground parking spaces.

Residential Design Flourishes

The building features a stone facade, sloped roof with dormers and plans for trees and landscaping. The proposal by Keith Waters & Associates also features residential housing, but a reduced number of units when compared to the Toll Brothers proposal. The project’s backers say this will help retain the character of the property, which is currently zoned for residential use.

“We wanted it to fit into the neighborhood,” FiberPop President Jim Louks told Finance & Commerce. “I don’t know if it’s a mansion. It’s a commercial building, and it has an upscale look to it. We’re building data centers in all kinds of locations around the country.”

FiberPop specializes in high-capacity fiber to the home (FTTH) that will bundle television and Internet access. The company is currently considering at least one other potential data center location.

New Twist on Data Center Development

Data centers are typically located in commercial and industrial zones, often in nondescript buildings that provide both anonymity for security-conscious tenants and structural integrity to weather storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

These facilities have historically been focused on central business districts that provided a critical mass of customers, fiber connectivity and power. In recent years the development of large-scale data centers has shifted to rural areas offering affordable power and acres of land. But these data centers are usually targeted for sparsely-populated areas, allowing for “buffers” of surrounding land for added security and potential expansion.

In seeking to integrate a data center into a surrounding residential zone, the Minnetonka proposal provides yet another take on data center development. Is it a sensible approach? Or is this an isolated scenario that’s unlikely to work in other geographies? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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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

    Opportunity to scavenge HVAC waste heat and distribute to residences for slight cost savings, such as preheating water ahead of hot water heater (equiv of solar hotwater preheat, but works 24hrs/day year round). If near farm, can also be used for hothouse / greenhouse.

  2. Alber

    From a cost perspective, is it smart to build data center in a luxery neighbor given that luxery homes are usually in a high tax, high value property area?

  3. ramriot

    Imagine if every community had there own data-centre. With a high bandwidth fibre connection. You could easily set up a wide area wireless network with the data-centre as the hub/ISP for cheep high bandwidth internet access. Which means that no local cable company or telecom company will welcome this intrusion onto their turf. I'm off now to do the same for my community and I'm going to keep it quiet until after rollout!

  4. curmudgeon55

    Living in Vancouver, Canada, as I do, it's beginning to look like the only entities that will be able to afford residential property will be this sort of use. Our idiot politicians and their mad rush to create a green city that the world will want to move to has inflated the land prices to make us the third (at least check) most unaffordable city in which to live in all the world. We're even more unaffordable than places like New York or Tokyo.

  5. This seems like a great idea.

  6. Steve

    Are they going to call it the Batcave?

  7. tom

    all good until the backup generators start up...

  8. Derek

    honestly, build them wherever you can fit them and blend them in.

  9. michael

    This doesn't address the traffick and congestion issues that occur from office buildings.

  10. Quandary

    Ugliness is only half the issue. The other issue is that you now have up to 60 people commuting into and out of this residential area, in addition to the actual residents (20 single family homes). Even if all 20 of the single-family homes were dual-earner, dual-commuter families, that's only 40 daily commute trips into and out of the neighborhood; the expected traffic from this data center, based on the size of its parking lot, could by itself match or dwarf the traffic of the real residents. A real mansion, by contrast, would not create this issue (save possibly for the occasional party).

  11. Empress Trudy

    I can hardly wait until the data center sucks up all the locally delivered electricity and all the homeowners get intermittent brownouts. Although on the upside if there's a bad storm of the power goes down, the DC and its local area will be the first to get power re established.

  12. JD

    Traffic from 60 employees aren't that big of a deal. That would be even less of a problem if some of the employees decide to live locally.

  13. Craig from Palo Alto

    This doesn’t address the traffic and congestion issues that occur from office buildings ----- New data centers based on visualization and cloud platforms have very few on-site staff once the place is up and running. A few techs, some maintenance, some security, but most of the back end administration will be done remotely.

  14. Bart

    Where I live, mixed corporate campuses and residential properties are the rule not the exception. The only news here is that the design doesn't look dreadfully sad. 60 employees is a drop in the bucket, compared to most of the properties I'm thinking of, and hiding the parking away underground is a nice touch, though probably made only because the planners have done their research and know just how strong the NIMBY pull is in the neighborhood they hope to build within.

  15. RequiredName

    @Quandary..... why would you have up to 60 people commuting into and out of this [datacenter]? do you work at a "datacenter"? or does your employer merely have a "datacenter" in a building that has miscellaneous offices? It would really depend on your datacenter's purpose and/or your business model - if you serving random people and businesses (such as rackspace) or even if its serving your company alone you could still maintain a minimal human presence for security and "hands-on" administration needs. Most everything can be done remotely and customer service could even be outsourced to a support company.

  16. jason

    Do this. I'd like to be the one who picks up a property like this for cheap when the start up goes under! A mansion with a bat cave / data bunker!

  17. Dole

    The idea could certainly work if it's a good location. Traffic would be a mess going through small residential streets, but not if it's close enough to the main roads. This kind of data center will become more popular as it becomes more necessary to be redundant and as close to the last mile as possible.

  18. Quandary is an idiot. "The other issue is that you now have up to 60 people commuting into and out of this residential area, in addition to the actual residents (20 single family homes). Even if all 20 of the single-family . . ." Opposite commute direction. That's 60 people (maybe 40 when you get carpoolers, etc. involved...on both sides of the equation), that will be travelling INTO the neighborhood during the same time that those 60 residents people you reference are travelling OUT of. Furthermore those 60 people making travelling IN won't be congesting the streets leading into and out of commercial/industrial/CBD areas. Yes, I know there will be some additional congestion at intersections, etc. but not much of that can't be mitigated: convert a couple of 4-way stops into lights, etc., but from a traffic and urban planning perspective, people traveling in the opposite commute direction during rush hour is a truly wondrous thing that will bring about it much more good than harm, by an order of magnitude.

  19. Sounds like a stupid idea. Since you need to have a few big diesel generators as your UPS you won't make happy neighbours. Thankfully emission laws make this impossible here. For a DC you need cheap and redundant power,cooling, bandwidth and cheap housing. I don't see any of these in rural areas. It makes much more sense to set one up in an old mine for example where you get "free" housing and cheap cooling.

  20. Jeff

    Like others have said, power is definitely the major concern with this design. Not only are they limited to what power is in the area (unless they want to pay for a LOT of very expensive high voltage trenching) but in an outage a diesel generator would produce a significant amount of noise and exhaust. Enter the fuel cell! It runs on natural gas (something you can get in a decent quantity even in a residential area) and it can be stored for later use (to provide outage resistance.) Install enough capacity for the datacenter, with a storage tank for 24-48 hrs, and you could conceivably not need diesel generators OR extra transmission-grade lines brought in. Install them in 2 banks, and get enough grid capacity to power half of the data center and you basically have a n+1 capacity/redundancy system that is also clean and quiet!

  21. thomhada

    To hide infrastructure and let it pretend to be something else is simply bad architecture. A good architect would build a data center that visualises its function in its outer form. This may not be apropriate for an upper class neighbourhood, but this is the wrong place for a data center for many other reasons anyway.

  22. Stephen J. Caggiano (@StephenCaggiano)

    A brilliant idea. A corporate entity, building in the communities they are planning to serve. The local lemonade stand approach to high-tech. Kudos for the innovation.

  23. Gary

    It is a good idea and a bad idea. First it brings work closer to the home for some, second if the power does go off they will have backup generators. The people that live in the area need to petition to have the generators supply power to the grid in the local area so they are not effected by a power outage and thereby the would tolerate the noise of generators. The last time I was around generators which were diesel they were relatively quiet and that was over 20 years ago, I know progress has changed that. For the bad, yes there will be more cars that come into the area, if you don't like it move. If you want privacy buy 100 acres and build a house in the middle. It like buying a house next to the airport and then complaining about the noise. Or buying a house next to railroad tracks and then complaining about the trains that come by, really. Get a life and deal with progress, or move to another area. At least they are trying to make it look like it is a residential building. Their is a water pumping station in San Bernardino, Ca that is in a residential home and it has been their for over 50 years with no problem.