Data Center Design Trends: Cold Locations

Several high-profile data center users have begun building facilities in colder parts of the world; however, is this advisable? Network Computing contributor Tony Kontzer stated that when it comes to data center design, cold is all the rage. More businesses are looking to construct and improve facilities in locations known for ambient cooling in order to take advantage of natural environmental conditions. A cooler climate allows a facility to use ambient air to defray cooling costs while simultaneously lowering their environmental impact by using less electricity. However, recent developments may be pushing the concept to the extreme.

Cold…really cold construction
Companies aren’t shying away from icy locations – SiliconAngle reported that Facebook recently opened a hydroelectric-powered data center in Lulea, Sweden, located on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The Arctic wind of the location will serve to cool the facility’s vast number of servers, significantly lowering cooling costs. Furthermore, Microsoft is planning to invest in a $250 million Nordic data center in Finland. However, is this overkill?

Some of the lowest recorded temperatures in the Arctic were recorded in Siberia around -58°F (-50°C). The average Arctic temperature in the summer is 50°F (10°C) although in some places, temperatures can reach 86°F (30°C) for short periods. It is possible these firms could encounter problems if mechanical parts freeze and access to mission critical infrastructure is hindered due to the cold climate.

Reduced need for manual cooling systems
One of the biggest benefits for the push to construct data centers in cold locations is the reduction or elimination of cooling systems.

“The challenge of cooling modern data centers has been likened to using a room full of air conditioners to cool a room full of fan heaters,” said data center expert Andrew Donohoe. “It is difficult, expensive and inefficient. Data centers that use outside air or other emerging cooling technologies promise to be cheaper, more efficient and more sustainable than traditional, mechanically cooled facilities.”

Industry analyst Andy Lawrence said the goal of many Internet infrastructure companies is to build a facility that does not require any form of mechanical cooling system. A cool geography is one method; however, many US locations boast up to 100% ambient cooling as do limestone mines like those commercialized by Iron Mountain Data Centers. Many companies are also drawn to areas like Finland due to their sustainable and reliable hydropower as well as economic incentives.

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