There was a time when data facilities had to be kept close to the knowledge workforce because the cost of building and maintaining broadly distributed network architectures was just too high, as was the latency they created.
Today’s high-speed, high-bandwidth networks have put an end to that, however, resulting in global cloud configurations that can connect data to virtually any device at a moment’s notice. The end result is that data centers are starting to crop up in the most unusual places, most often driven by the desire to implement the broadest possible data footprint while keeping costs to a bare minimum.
In many cases, this has led to a building boom of sorts in the coldest climates of the globe. Facebook, for one, recently took the wraps off its newest hyperscale facility, located in the small town of Lulea, Sweden. The facility lies just south of the Arctic Circle where the temperature rarely hits 70 degrees F and can easily slip to below zero in the dead of winter. Using ambient air and Sweden’s ample supply of renewable energy (mostly hydroelectric), the facility boasts a PUE of 1.04, which means that just about all the energy it consumes goes to data infrastructure, not cooling or power generation. For a center that handles upwards of 10 billion messages per day, that adds up to quite a savings for Facebook.
But cooler climates are not the only areas where new data centers are going up. EBay recently chose the desert area around Salt Lake City for its newest plant. At first blush, it may seem an odd choice, but while temperatures in that region do swell into the 90s in the summer, winters can get into the low 20s. And the desert has something equally valuable to the health and reliability of sensitive data equipment: low humidity. Even the coldest air being piped into the data environment still has to be conditioned if there is a chance it could short out critical components, and dry desert air can still do an adequate job of cooling even if it doesn’t measure up to frigid climes. The site will also take advantage of fuel cells and energy from a soon-to-be-opened waste-to-energy facility to keep PUE at around 1.2.
Of course, virtually any region on the planet has access to cool ambient air, even if you have to dig a little to find it. Colocation and cloud provider LightEdge, for example, is building its newest facility in a former limestone mine near Kansas City that has since been converted into a business park. The temperature is not only suitable for data functions year-round, but the limestone itself provides a more durable building material than even concrete. The first phase of the project will cover about 60,000 square feet and is expected to open early next year with wide area data connectivity from AT&T and Time Warner.
Even if a new data center is not in your budget right now, there is still a way to capitalize on some of the unique advantages that the newest green facilities provide. GreenQloud, for example, is offering services from its newest center in Iceland, which takes advantage of that nation’s steady volcanic activity, as well as wind and water sources, to power its systems. The company has released a set of IaaS APIs that allow virtually anybody to mount a data environment run entirely on renewable energy.
To be sure, green data still faces a number of obstacles before it can enter the enterprise mainstream. Scale and reliability top the list in most surveys. But it says a lot when powerhouses like Facebook and eBay are willing to turn to free-cooling, renewable energy and other techniques to keep costs under control.
These facilities still make up only a small percentage of overall data infrastructure, and it is still unclear whether efficiency can be maintained as workloads increase, but it is a promising start nonetheless.