Todd Murren is General Manager of Bluebird Underground Data Center.
Given the current proliferation of Big Data analytics and the advent of IoT, the stakes are high for colocation customers seeking storage and compute solutions for increasingly massive quantities of data. To remain competitive, these organizations look to obtain the services of a colocation provider whose facility is highly secure, reliable and scalable — all at a price point that won’t break the bank. A tall order, but with the proper data center optimization strategy, colocation providers can meet the needs of new and existing customers, delivering ample space and power as well as resiliency and security while minimizing costs.
For some of the most successful colocation providers, the answer resides underground. By deploying a facility beneath the Earth’s surface, data center operators have the ability to provide customers with a wide range of enhanced offerings, including added security and resiliency as well as lower energy consumption.
The physical resiliency of an underground environment is completely unmatched in the data center world. The surrounding rock creates a natural shield from extreme weather including tornadoes and hurricanes that can make an above-ground data center vulnerable to an outage event. That said, some underground facility designers fail to house critical operations such as power supplies, generators and HVAC units underground given the complications associated with their deployment. This is a big mistake that can significantly diminish optimization.
Think about it this way. There’s a good reason why your organs are inside your body, protected by walls of bone, muscle and skin. These are the engines driving the human machine that are critical to its functionality. Without surrounding protection, organs would become vulnerable to outside forces, putting your life at risk. This is akin to an optimized underground colocation environment. However, building a data center space beneath the Earth’s surface isn’t enough. Critical power and operations must also be buried to ensure total protection against environmental vulnerabilities.
Maintaining a consistent atmosphere also becomes much easier with an underground data center deployment. The environment functions like a biosphere, making it possible to maintain total control of all atmospheric elements such as temperature and humidity with minimal effort. Operators no longer need to compete with the constant heat on a warm sunny day or excessive humidity following a recent downpour, increasing the operational efficiency of the facility by functioning within constant, known parameters. In addition, the naturally cool environment of an underground mine, where some subterranean data centers are located, is more conducive to the requirements of server racks and other hardware. As a result, energy consumption is both minimal and consistent, providing tenants with significant savings on power usage year-round.
Underground data centers also stand a much better chance against lightning that can threaten the functionality of a facility’s power grid. A typical data center located on the surface will ground its machines into — you guessed it — the ground. But what happens when the facility already underground? Underground data centers have the ability to ground electrical infrastructure deep into the Earth’s water table via a specific type of well, providing unparalleled protection against electrical storms.
Despite these advantages, underground facilities are not conducive to all environments. Given the varying geological features seen across North America, some terrain simply can’t support the physical requirements of data center space. In addition, even when considering some of the most optimal regions for underground facility deployment, the immediate resources required to dig a data center-sized hole in the earth are too great to justify long-term benefits. In this case, an operator’s best and often only bet is to secure the rights to an expansive, inoperative mine and utilize this space to deploy their new facility.
Data center optimization is much an art as it is a science. It’s a symphony of many different elements coming together to create a highly-efficient and functional facility. There is no quick fix or “optimize switch,” rather it takes time, dedication and continued innovation to ensure customers receive the highest quality colocation available. Going underground is not the complete solution, but when done properly, it enables a world of possibilities to enhance operational efficiencies.
Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Informa.
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