These Aren’t Your Ordinary Data Centers

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/these-arent-your-ordinary-data-centers/

Barcelona Supercomputing Center

Many of us would concede that buildings housing data centers are generally pretty ordinary places. They’re often drab and bunker-like with few or no windows, and located in office parks or in rural areas. You usually don’t see signs out front announcing what they are, and, if you’re not in information technology, you might be hard pressed to guess what goes on inside.

If you’re observant, you might notice cooling towers for air conditioning and signs of heavy electrical usage as clues to their purpose. For most people, though, data centers go by unnoticed and out of mind. Data center managers like it that way, because the data stored in and passing through these data centers is the life’s blood of business, research, finance, and our modern, digital-based lives.

That’s why the exceptions to low-key and meh data centers are noteworthy. These unusual centers stand out for their design, their location, what the building was previously used for, or perhaps how they approach energy usage or cooling.

Let’s take a look at a handful of data centers that certainly are outside of the norm.

The Underwater Data Center

Microsoft’s rationale for putting a data center underwater makes sense. Most people live near water, they say, and their submersible data center is quick to deploy, and can take advantage of hydrokinetic energy for power and natural cooling.

Project Natick has produced an experimental, shipping-container-size prototype designed to process data workloads on the seafloor near Scotland’s Orkney Islands. It’s part of a years-long research effort to investigate manufacturing and operating environmentally sustainable, prepackaged datacenter units that can be ordered to size, rapidly deployed, and left to operate independently on the seafloor for years.

Microsoft's Project Natick
Microsoft’s Project Natick at the launch site in the city of Stromness on Orkney Island, Scotland on Sunday May 27, 2018. (Photography by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures)
Natick Brest
Microsoft’s Project Natick in Brest, France

The Supercomputing Center in a Former Catholic Church

One might be forgiven for mistaking Torre Girona for any normal church, but this deconsecrated 20th century church currently houses the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, home of the MareNostrum supercomputer. As part of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, this supercomputer (Latin for Our sea, the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea), is used for a range of research projects, from climate change to cancer research, biomedicine, weather forecasting, and fusion energy simulations.

Torre Girona. a former Catholic church in Barcelona
Torre Girona, a former Catholic church in Barcelona
The Barcelona Supercomputing Center, home of the MareNostrum supercomputer
The Barcelona Supercomputing Center, home of the MareNostrum supercomputer

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center, home of the MareNostrum supercomputer

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center, home of the MareNostrum supercomputer

The Under-a-Mountain Bond Supervillain Data Center

Most data centers don’t have the extreme protection or history of the The Bahnhof Data Center, which is located inside the ultra-secure former nuclear bunker Pionen, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is buried 100 feet below ground inside the White Mountains and secured behind 15.7 in. thick metal doors. It prides itself on its self-described Bond villain ambiance.

We previously wrote about this extraordinary data center in our post, The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 1.

The Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm, Sweden
The Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm, Sweden

The Data Center That Can Survive a Class 5 Hurricane

Sometimes the location of the center comes first and the facility is hardened to withstand anticipated threats, such as Equinix’s NAP of the Americas data center in Miami, one of the largest single-building data centers on the planet (six stories and 750,000 square feet), which is built 32 feet above sea level and designed to withstand category five hurricane winds.

The MI1 facility provides access for the Caribbean, South and Central America to “to more than 148 countries worldwide,” and is the primary network exchange between Latin America and the U.S., according to Equinix. Any outage in this data center could potentially cripple businesses passing information between these locations.

The center was put to the test in 2017 when Hurricane Irma, a class 5 hurricane in the Caribbean, made landfall in Florida as a class 4 hurricane. The storm caused extensive damage in Miami-Dade County, but the Equinix center survived.

Equinix NAP of the Americas Data Center in Miami
Equinix NAP of the Americas Data Center in Miami

The Data Center Cooled by Glacier Water

Located on Norway’s west coast, the Lefdal Mine Datacenter is built 150 meters into a mountain in what was formerly an underground mine for excavating olivine, also known as the gemstone peridot, a green, high- density mineral used in steel production. The data center is powered exclusively by renewable energy produced locally, while being cooled by water from the second largest fjord in Norway, which is 565 meters deep and fed by the water from four glaciers. As it’s in a mine, the data center is located below sea level, eliminating the need for expensive high-capacity pumps to lift the fjord’s water to the cooling system’s heat exchangers, contributing to the center’s power efficiency.

The Lefdal Mine Data Center in Norway
The Lefdal Mine Datacenter in Norway

The World’s Largest Data Center

The Tahoe Reno 1 data center in The Citadel Campus in Northern Nevada, with 7.2 million square feet of data center space, is the world’s largest data center. It’s not only big, it’s powered by 100% renewable energy with up to 650 megawatts of power.

The Switch Core Campus in Nevada
The Switch Core Campus in Nevada
Tahoe Reno Switch Data Center
Tahoe Reno Switch Data Center

An Out of This World Data Center

If the cloud isn’t far enough above us to satisfy your data needs, Cloud Constellation Corporation plans to put your data into orbit. A constellation of eight low earth orbit satellites (LEO), called SpaceBelt, will offer up to five petabytes of space-based secure data storage and services and will use laser communication links between the satellites to transmit data between different locations on Earth.

CCC isn’t the only player talking about space-based data centers, but it is the only one so far with 100 million in funding to make their plan a reality.

Cloud Constellation's SpaceBelt
Cloud Constellation’s SpaceBelt

A Cloud Storage Company’s Modest Beginnings

OK, so our current data centers are not that unusual (with the possible exception of our now iconic Storage Pod design), but Backblaze wasn’t always the profitable and growing cloud services company that it is today. hen Backblaze was just getting started and was figuring out how to make data storage work while keeping costs as low as possible for our customers.There was a time when Backblaze was just getting started, and before we had almost an exabyte of customer data storage, that we were figuring out how to make data storage work while keeping costs as low as possible for our customers.

The photo below is not exactly a data center, but it is the first data storage structure used by Backblaze to develop its storage infrastructure before going live with customer data. It was on the patio behind the Palo Alto apartment that Backblaze used for its first office.

Shed used for very early (pre-customer) data storage testing
Shed used for very early (pre-customer) data storage testing

The photos below (front and back) are of the very first data center cabinet that Backblaze filled with customer data. This was in 2009 in San Francisco, and just before we moved to a data center in Oakland where there was room to grow. Note the storage pod at the top of the cabinet. Yes, it’s made out of wood. (You have to start somewhere.)

Backblaze's first data storage cabinet to hold customer data (2009) (front)
Backblaze’s first data storage cabinet to hold customer data (2009) (front)
Backblaze's first data storage cabinet to hold customer data (2009) (back)
Backblaze’s first data storage cabinet to hold customer data (2009) (back)

Do You Know of Other Unusual Data Centers?

Do you know of another data center that should be on this list? Please tell us in the comments.

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