While CEO Marissa Mayer’s attempts to reinvigorate Yahoo may mean cutting costs by laying off thousands of employees, pivoting to grab more market share in mobile advertising, video, and social networking requires hefty investment in data center infrastructure.
The company doesn’t provide cloud-infrastructure services, so it doesn’t spend billions of dollars on data centers like some of its biggest rivals do every year. It does, however, continue to expand its already substantial international data center footprint.
A second Yahoo data center recently came online in Lockport, New York. It was built using a unique design the company initially referred to as Chicken Coop but then promptly renamed to Yahoo Computing Coop, or YCC. The design completely forgoes power-guzzling mechanical chillers, relying almost entirely on outside air for cooling.
If you’re using any Yahoo service at all, be it mail, the social network Tumblr, or the photo service Flickr, there’s a good chance it’s being served out of Lockport, Paul Bonaro, Yahoo’s senior director of data center operations, said. All the company’s new and expanded service initiatives drive the need to expand data center capacity, he said.
The company first announced the $170-million data center expansion project in New York State in October 2013. The project also included a new customer-care center. Now online, the expansion has two 30,000-square-foot computer rooms and 7.2 megawatts of hydropower.
The first 15-megawatt Yahoo data center in Lockport was part of an initiative to consolidate a multitude of leased data centers into company-owned facilities. With the exception of a number of Point-of-Presence locations around the country, Yahoo is now almost entirely out of leased data centers in the U.S., Bonaro said.
Its other owned and operated data centers are in Quincy, Washington, La Vista, Nebraska, and Singapore. The Singapore site is the only international data center the company owns, leasing facilities in other non-U.S. locations.
Same Design With 1,000 Little Changes
Lockport and a recent expansion in Quincy are the only Yahoo data center sites currently employing the coop design. The Lockport expansion is a slightly modified version of the original blueprint.
The chicken-coop shape maximizes the flow of outside air through the facility. Put simply, air enters the building through massive side-wall louvers and gets pulled through the servers. Warm exhaust air rises into the narrow plenum at the top and exits through louvers located there.
Side-wall intake louvers and coop exhaust louvers can be seen in this rendering, courtesy of Yahoo
As mentioned earlier, there are no mechanical chillers. When the weather gets too hot, the data center uses an evaporative-cooling system, which Bonaro says does not happen very often.
He likes to say “there’s a 1,000 little adjustments” in the design of the latest expansion, resulting in improvements in pretty much every system and enhancing the site’s reliability and operability.
Changes like a higher number of temperature and humidity sensors in computer rooms and enhanced building-management-system logic, for example, improve reliability.
The coops themselves were redesigned for easier access to dampers that control exhaust air. “We could get to them in the older design, but it was a bit of a challenge,” he said.
Bonaro’s team also added some features during construction that allow for more flexibility to retrofit the data center in the future, when time comes to refresh the equipment or increase power density.
Yahoo data center team has a group of systems it developed in house that can collectively be referred to as Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM), he said. The DCIM is integrated with building and power management systems.
Yahoo Not Yet in Custom-Server Game
Unlike some of the other web-scale data center operators – the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, and Google – Yahoo does not use custom-made IT gear. “We purchase our servers and switches from a variety of manufacturers, but I wouldn’t say they’re custom,” Bonaro said.
There is a group within the company that’s constantly evaluating latest technologies and deciding what the next-generation infrastructure will look like. But he could not say there were any immediate plans to go the custom-hardware route in the near future.
Ideal Town for Yahoo’s Purposes
In western New York State, Yahoo found an ideal data center location. There isn’t a data center cluster in or around Lockport, but the site works well for Yahoo. The company gets access to hydropower, a climate cool enough for a “chillerless” cooling system, and enough people skilled at running a data center.
Yahoo also received a nice package of tax breaks from the local government in 2013, exempting it from property taxes for 10 years and sales tax on building material and equipment for 20 years, as Data Center Knowledge reported earlier.
While major data center markets like New York City and Ashburn, Virginia, are where networks that make up the internet meet to exchange traffic, rural America – small towns like Lockport, Quincy, and Prineville, Oregon – is now truly the place where the engines that do the internet’s heavy lifting reside.