Data Center ‘Cooling’ Just Took on a Whole New Meaning

Posted by RF Code

It’s common knowledge that large data centers spend a small fortune each year keeping temperatures at an optimum level. Given the growth in compressed server designs, the heat really is on – often literally – so what better way to reduce cooling costs than to move a facility to somewhere very cold?

As we curl up in our winter clothes, it’s an appropriate time to look at a number of locations that are capable of delivering their own unique method of air conditioning…

Freezing Figures

freezing-data-centerEver wondered why detectives in Nordic dramas wear chunky sweaters all the time? Because the region is literally freezing! The cold climate, which rarely hovers much above 32°F during February, is an ideal location for natural data center cooling. As a result, many of the world’s largest technology companies have taken advantage of the climate by building large energy efficient facilities across the region.

A recent report forecast that Nordic countries are expected to triple available data center power in the next three years, with the IT infrastructure market attracting a potential $3.63 billion in investment. Google’s Finnish data center uses cold seawater to cool its facility, while Apple is planning to build a new data center in Denmark, where it can take advantage of the chilly climate and the country’s wind power. Iceland now has five data centers including a large facility run by Verne Global, which includes BMW amongst its clients.

The Chill Factor

Cold external air is a large attraction, helping operators to lower costs and achieve greater levels of efficiency compared to traditional, mechanically cooled facilities.

Facebook maximizes this initiative for its facility in Lulea, the coldest part of Sweden, and newly renamed ‘The Node Pole’. Located just outside the Arctic Circle, the average temperature during winter is a bone-chilling -4°F. Freezing air from outside is pumped into buildings to provide a natural coolant, while hot air generated by servers is circulated out.

Another increasingly popular choice for locating data centers is underground. Iron Mountain created its own data bunker 220 feet below in a former limestone mine 50 miles north of Pittsburgh. This provides naturally low ambient temperatures and the facility also boasts an underground lake to provide cold water to cooling systems. Similarly, Cavern Technologies facility is located under 125 feet of limestone near Kansas City and uses the naturally cold air to cool the data center.

But the prize for the coldest data center on earth goes to IceCube Lab at the South Pole, which is attached to the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and houses the first detector of its kind designed to observe the cosmos from deep within the Antarctic ice.

The data center is beneath a two-mile thick glacier, with temperatures ranging from -40°F to -100°F. Because of its extreme location, only two people spend the entire year at the facility to maintain the data acquisition computers and collect data.

These locations are all cooled naturally, but many data center facilities are unnecessarily overcooled with air conditioning. This can cost organizations millions of dollars in excessive energy bills.