building data centers in the deep freeze

Facebook has just opened its first European data center, and has chosen to site it on the Arctic Circle. The Luleå Data Center located in Northern Sweden boasts an impressive average power usage efficiency (PUE) rating of 1.07. Facebook reckons that it will be one of the most energy efficient data centers in the world. It will be publishing an online PUE monitor so that you can see for yourself how the data center is performing – but this is not live yet.

Luleå Data Center uses 100% locally-available hydroelectric power and Facebook reckons that this supply is so reliable that it is able to reduce the number of backup generators by 70%. The data center also uses free-air cooling to cool the servers and channels any excess heat to heat Facebook’s local offices.

moving to sustainable design

Interestingly, the sustainability focus of Facebook’s data centers could be partly the result of a Greenpeace campaign that took Facebook to task about building a data center in 2010 that would use energy from a coal-fired power station. The campaign resulted in a stated goal by Facebook to “power all of our operations with clean and renewable energy”.

Facebook isn’t the only US Internet giant in the Scandinavian north. Google is building a data center in Finland and has just bought the entire 10-year output of a Swedish wind farm, which will go online in 2015. Google is also very focused on reducing its PUE, and has achieved an average quarterly PUE of just 1.1 across all of its sites – which is extremely impressive. Back in 2008, this average PUE stood at around 1.2.

Google’s Hamina Data Center is located on the Gulf of Finland and uses an innovative sea-water driven cooling system. The system uses heat exchangers to draw heat from the servers and warm up the sea water. After remixing the heated water with fresh seawater to rebalance the temperatures, the seawater is returned to the Gulf.

To view this video content, you must accept YouTube cookies.

These cookies make it possible to share or react directly on the social networks to which you are connected or to integrate content initially posted on these social networks. They also allow social networks to use your visits to our sites and applications for personalization and targeting advertising.

brownfield sites

Interestingly Google has not built the data center as a greenfield site, instead it is refitting an old paper mill as a data center. This is, of course, a good way of reducing the carbon emissions from the actual build.

One company is looking to make a business out of converting old buildings into data centers. A division of Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and K-Mart stores, Ubiquity Critical Environments aims to turn vacant buildings into the engines of the Internet.

With the online economy transforming the world’s retail business there are hundreds of thousands of square feet of vacant retail space in out of town malls and other retail locations. Ubiquity has already announced its first project: it is converting a Sears store in southern Chicago next to the Chicago Skyway into a multi-tenant data center. The 127,000 square foot store is closing at the end of June and then will be transformed into a data center.

going underground

Even old archiving facilities are getting into the data center business. Iron Mountain made its name storing old paper files and tapes in locations throughout the US. It has now opened a data center in its facility located 220 feet underground in an old limestone mine in Pennsylvania. The key selling point – like the Arctic – is the low ambient temperature of around 11°C and a plentiful supply of cold water to minimize server cooling costs.

Despite all of these innovations in power and cooling, data center power use is still climbing inexorably. A recent global assessment put worldwide data center power requirements at 38GW in 2012, a massive 63% rise over the 24GW in 2011. DatacenterDynamics (DCD) Intelligence, which carried out the survey estimates a further rise of 17% in 2013 to bring it to 43GW. As a comparison, total renewable energy generation in 2012 was 1,470 GW, with wind contributing 39%.

Are you interested in putting your data center in cooler climes? Or do you already operate a data center bunker underground? 


photo credit: © victor zastol'skiy -

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.