Data Centers: Storing the World's Information

As more of our data moves into the cloud, data centers the world over are being revamped to be faster, more secure - and greener
TAGS: data centers
 Innovations in data center design

View this feature in our June edition of Construction Digital

With the explosion of social media and cloud-based applications and storage, the digital revolution seems to just be warming up – and all that data is beginning to bring heavy stresses on both the environment and existing information storage techniques. Data centers are set to surpass airlines in carbon emissions by 2020, and are using a growing percentage of global energy production to cool and power their massive arrays of servers and communications infrastructure.

Thanks to burgeoning technologies and new revamped efforts towards sustainability, though, the information/technology sector is beginning to reign in its massive power consumption and global footprint. Here are a few examples of innovative data center design that promise to power the digital-driven economy of the future.


Underneath a mountain in Stavanger, Norway, in what was once a NATO ammunition storage facility, lies the world’s greenest data center. The Green Mountain Data Center – a sprawling 21,500 square meter underground bunker – is powered exclusively from renewable sources, and is cooled by water from the regions nearby fjords. Fjords are narrow, water-filled canyons carved as glaciers that slowly creep across the Norwegian landscape. Water at the base of these fjords can be as low as eight degrees centigrade, providing efficient cooling for the enormous amount of heat generated by data storage operations. The Center has nearly zero carbon emissions, and will have 30 percent lower operating costs than similar centers upon its completion in late 2012.

Green Mountain Data Center.jpg

Renewable Energy

In terms of sustainability, Iceland is an ideal location to build and run a power hungry data center in that the country’s energy is sourced from 100 percent renewable sources, mainly hydro and geothermal power. More than 70 percent of the energy requirements in data centers are attributed to cooling servers and equipment, but in Iceland’s temperate and relatively cool climate the costs would be minimal. Verne’s 18-hectare complex lies just west of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and renowned as one of the world’s greenest cities. Situated on a retired military installation, the facility is at low risk for geological activity, and offers secure storage with a zip – a 100 gigabyte-per-second fiber optic cable is planned this year to connect the United States, Canada, the UK and Iceland.

Verne's geothermal power station.jpg

Sub-Arctic Stations

Facebook recently announced construction of a new data center for its massive social media operations near the Arctic Circle in Lulea, Sweden. The facility with be the company’s first non-U.S. data center and will serve users in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Because of the frigid temperatures, the complex will require 70 percent less energy than traditional data centers, despite spanning nearly 30,000 square meters, and will be powered almost exclusively from hydropower. The center should be operational by 2014.

Floating Data Centers

Leave it to Google to think out of the box when it comes to information management – the internet giant recently filed a patent for offshore barge data centers that makes use of ocean waters for both cooling and power. The barges will consist of container-based server units that can be easily removed and added, and will operate three to seven miles off shore. The design utilizes the motion of the surface waves to create electricity – up to five megawatts for each Pelamis Wave Energy Converters used. Sea water would be pumped through the facility to cool the server areas. Another perk of these self-sufficient centers is that they would not cost the company real estate or property taxes.

The Final Frontier

One of the more unconventional proposals for self-sufficient data centers is Server Sky, a proposal for space-based, orbiting server units that are solar powered and beam data back to earth via radio waves. Too far-fetched? The clean, stable, and freezing cold environment of open space is fairly ideal for data-processing, and like Google’s venture would save companies the headache of property taxes or law restrictions. With rockets putting private satellites into space more frequently and cheaply, space-bound servers may not be too far off.

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