Going Underground: Data Centers Dig Deep for Security and Savings
From Pittsburgh to Stockholm, Companies Move Underground
It sounds like a something you’d see in the latest techno-thriller at the multiplex:
Located deep below the center of Stockholm, Sweden, the high-tech Pionen data center is housed in an old bomb shelter that was originally built to withstand assault from a hydrogen bomb.
Now the 11,950 square foot space, which sits under 30 feet of granite bedrock, boasts greenhouses, waterfalls, and 2,600-liter saltwater fish tank. Not to mention submarine engines to provide backup power, as well as a cooling system, built for hundreds of rack-mounted servers.
Pionen, the NOC for Bahnhof, a Swedish ISP, is hardly alone when it comes to going underground. As they say in the real estate business, location is everything. And that is a major driver in establishing underground data centers in former mines and military installations all over the world.
Benefits of Going Down Under
Iron Mountain Underground, a Tier III facility near Pittsburgh, Pa, is situated 220 feet below ground. Cavern Technologies offers a data center in Lenexa, Kansas, that is 120 feet below a midwestern prairie surrounded by limestone. And in Finland, a new company, Alber Networks, just announced it would transform the Härmälä caves that once housed a government-owned aviation company into yet another multi-million dollar high security data center.
These subterranean facilities offer protection from a host of worst-case scenarios, a major concern for companies dedicated to hosting and protecting data 24-7/365. For instance, bunkers are extremely hard to damage from aerial assault. As for the unconventional weapons of the future, rock, earth, and other construction materials can protect facilities from high-power microwave and electromagnetic pulse weapons. Going underground can also help guard against potential damage from natural disasters—such as lightning, tornadoes, forest fires, and hurricanes.
There are other advantages when it comes to subterranean data centers. By use pre-existing sites, construction and development are often less onerous than building on street level. For one thing, you don’t have to worry about neighbors and zoning regulations. If a blanket permit is extended to the project, the time spent getting approvals from municipal or state planning commissions plummets. For another, during construction, weather-related delays are very rare.
All these logistical and time saving advantages can translate into lower construction costs. Additionally, for companies based in tornado-prone areas, going underground eliminates the need for tornado-proofing a building, which can cost as much as $100 a square foot,
The natural temperature of underground facilities generally is much cooler than the temperature up on the earth’s surface. So there may be some savings with regard to energy costs. That, however, does not eliminate the need for cooling systems to ensure servers don’t overheat.