Wild New Design: Data Center in A Silo

The CLUMEQ supercomputing center in Quebec has transformed a 65-foot tall cement silo into a data center. Rings of cabinets within the silo (which previously housed a Van de Graaf particle accelerator) are cooled via an exterior cold air plenum, with a "hot core" in the center of the silo.

Rich Miller

December 10, 2009

3 Min Read
Data Center Knowledge logo



A diagram of the design of the CLUMEQ Colossus supercomputer, from a recent presentation by Marc Parizeau of CLUMEQ.

Here's one of the most unusual data center designs we've seen. The CLUMEQ supercomputing center in Quebec has worked with Sun Microsystems to transform a huge silo into a data center. The cylindrical silo, which is 65 feet high and 36 feet wide with two-foot thick concrete walls, previously housed a Van de Graaf particle accelerator. When the accelerator was decommissioned, CLUMEQ decided to convert the facility into a high-performance computing (HPC) cluster known as Colossus.

We first noted the development of the CLUMEQ site earlier this year when Marc Hamilton of Sun discussed its unique design, but offered scant details. Additional information about the design of the facility and its cooling system were discussed at the Sun HPC Consortium last month in Portland, Oregon.

CLUMEQ silo data center


The CLUMEQ Colossus cylinder features an interior "hot core" (as opposed to a hot aisle) in the center of the building and uses the outside ring of the facility as the cold air plenum. The cabinets are arranged in a ring on each floor, facing the outside of the silo. The floors supporting each ring of cabinets are comprised of grates rather than solid flooring to facilitate airflow through the facility.

The cooling coils and air handlers are located in the basement. Chilled air flows upward through the outside cold aisle and through the racks of servers. The waste heat exits the rear of the racks into the hot core, and is returned to the basement via the cold aisle.

Cooling fans at the CLUMEQ silo


The air flow pattern is maintained through differential air pressure - maintaining a higher air pressure in the cold aisle than the hot aisle. This keeps the air moving through the facility, which has a blowing capacity of 180,000 CFM and can cool up to 1.5 megawatts of electrical load. Up to 300 kilowatts of cooling capacity can be supplied by free cooling using fresh air from outside the facility.

"CLUMEQ silo totally blows up the paradigm of data center design," says Nicolas Dube of Sun, who began work on the project as a graduate student at Universite Laval in Quebec. "The silo, by itself, is the CRAC (computer room air conditioner). The whole facility cools itself."

As for computing horsepower, Colossus will have a peak of 86 teraflops of compute power. It's equipped with a Sun Constellation HPC systems featuring 10 fully loaded Sun Blade 6048 chassis, 1 petabyte of Lustre storage and Sun J4400 storage arrays.

The data center racks are spread over three floors, with the switches on the second floor to keep the cable runs as short as possible.

For a full description of the CLUMEQ design, check out this video from Sun, which runs about 6 minutes.

Additional details are available in PDFs of presentations by Marc Parizeau of CLUMEQ and Nicolas Dube of Sun.


Subscribe to the Data Center Knowledge Newsletter
Get analysis and expert insight on the latest in data center business and technology delivered to your inbox daily.

You May Also Like