For many years, Yahoo was one of the Internet's master builders, deploying server farms far and wide as it built upon its status as a Web pioneer. But over the past two years, as rivals like Google, Apple and Facebook have invested billions of dollars to build ultra-efficient data centers, things have been pretty quiet over at Yahoo.
But a change may be in the offing, as Yahoo appears to be ready to expand its vision for a large campus of wind-cooled "computing coops" in upstate New York.
Yahoo has been in a state of transition under new CEO Marissa Mayer. One year into Mayer's tenure, Yahoo shares are up 70 percent as investors have been buoyed by the new leadership and a flurry of 17 acquisitions. It has rolled out new features that could require significant data storage, including the acquisition of blogging service Tumblr and the launch of the "new Flickr," which offers users up to a terabyte of photo storage.
Looking at Third Phase
That's why it was interesting to see reports from Buffalo-area media that Yahoo wants to buy an additional 20 acres of land at its "Computing Coop" data center campus in Lockport, New York. The land would be for a third phase of the Yahoo project, even though local officials say the company has yet to begin work on the $168 million second phase that it announced in March.
The first phases of the Lockport project, built in 2010-11, featured 275,000 square feet of data center space housed in five 120-by-60 foot prefabricated metal structures using the Yahoo Computing Coop data center design. The project was part of a global initiative to make Yahoo's data center footprint more efficient and sustainable, saving millions of dollars in power costs along the way.
The cool, windy weather in Lockport is a major element of the plan. The campus is fed by hydro-electric power generated from dams on the Niagara River, rather than coal. The Yahoo Computing Coop uses fresh air to cool its servers, rather than energy-hungry chillers and air conditioning system. They feature pre-fabricated buildings modeled on the thermal design of chicken coops, which use the shape of the building to guide air where it is needed to efficienctly cool the interior.
Each coop 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.
The result is an extraordinarily efficient and sustainable facility, which boasts a power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.07 while earning rare praise from the environmental group Greenpeace for its clean power sourcing.
It's not clear whether Yahoo's move to procure more land suggests that it may be shifting into a more active building mode. Officials in Lockport says Yahoo has yet to file site plans for the second phase of the project, but they understand the company may seek to begin construction in September. David Kinyon, the executive director of the Lockport Industrial Development Agency, said there appears to be "extensive internal discussions at Yahoo about what the second complex should look like."
That sure sounds like modifications to the design, which would be in keeping with the company's history of innovation. Many of the industry's design thought leaders have spent time on the Yahoo team, including Facebook's Tom Furlong, Apple's Scott Noteboom, CyrusOne's Kevin Timmons and uber-consultant K.C. Mares. If Yahoo is going back to the drawing board, the next phase of the Computing Coop campus will be a project to watch.