In pictures: The world's coolest datacentres

Data centres need to be secure, temperature controlled, spacious, redundant, reliable – nothing sexy. But that doesn't mean they can't be. Here are a few that rise above the crowd and take advantage of the possibilities.

  • i/o Data Centers's Phoenix ONE, Arizona, US Ranked among the top 10 largest data centres in the world by Data Center Knowledge, Phoenix ONE occupies 538,000 square feet and is collocated with the company's corporate headquarters. Among its innovative features are cooling tanks filled with a mix of ice balls and glycol that are cooled during the night when electricity is less expensive, then help keep the solution cool during the day when it is used to keep temperatures down in the data centre. It also uses low power LED lighting to keep down heat and reduce overall power consumption.

  • Citi datacentre, Frankfurt, Germany The facility uses fresh air for cooling, reverse osmosis to reduce sediment build-up in cooling towers and thereby saving 13 million gallons of water per year and uses virtualisation to reduce the number of physical servers needed. But the building also has a green roof made up of living plants that help reduce run-off from the building and to keep it cool. The green wall shown here is made up of living plants that don't improve the efficiency of the centre, but promote biodiversity at the site.

  • Clumeq, Université Laval, Quebec, Canada Housed inside a renovated Van der Graaf particle accelerator facility used for atomic research. Data gear is distributed over three circular floors totalling 2,700 square feet.

  • Data centres need to be secure, temperature controlled, spacious, redundant, reliable – nothing sexy. But that doesn't mean they can't be. Here are a few that rise above the crowd and take advantage of the possibilities.

  • In France, the OVH hosting company data center in Roubaix is shaped like a cube, but it's got a hollow core that's open to the sky where heat is vented. Air drawn in from the outside of the cube circulates through server racks and is blown out into the courtyard where it dissipates upward. The design eliminates the need for air conditioning, making the 35,000-server facility more green. Also helping to eliminate the air-conditioning is water cooling of the servers that works in tandem with the circulating air. The company says the design, with the servers deployed on six floors, occupies a footprint a quarter of the size it would need if it were all on one level.

  • Prairie Bunkers has opened a data center park outside Hastings, Nebraska, where businesses can lease facilities ranging from 2,500 square feet to 1 million square feet in above-ground bunkers. Reusing WWII naval munitions bunkers, the company touts its geothermal cooling that saves on energy costs as well as its proximity to high bandwidth fiber optic connections. The 750-acre site is out of hurricane, earthquake, fire and flood zones, and the buildings were built to withstand the area's major natural threat, tornadoes.

  • Pionen datacentre, Sweden Located in a Cold War era defence bunker, this data centre could take a hit from an H-bomb and keep on ticking. It takes advantage of some other military technology, enlisting dual submarine engines to power backup generators in case the conventional power grid fails. To make the working day bearable in a granite cave 100 feet below the streets of Stockholm, the facility has greenhouses, an artificial waterfall and a 686-gallon salt water fish tank.

  • Westland Bunker data centre about 45 miles north of Houston, occupies a nuclear bunker built in 1982 by Louis Kung, the nephew of Madame Chang Kai Shek, as a refuge to house 350 people for three months. It was part of the campus for his oil company, Westland Oil, and was a contingency against nuclear attack or the breakdown of society. Today the headquarters building is available to customers as a disaster-recovery site. The separate bunker houses the data centre, which will be cooled in part by deep wells dug to support needs of people who might be housed there. A pair of pagodas masks the entrances to the underground facility.

  • Emerson datacentre, Montana, US To help reduce the enormous power demand of this 35,000-square-foot data centre, the rooftop is mostly solar panels that can generate 100k watts of power, not a lot by data centre standards, but helpful.

  • @Tokyo data centre, Tokyo, Japan This dramatic hallway is the entrance that leads to the 1.4 million square foot of data centre space for lease.

  • Iron Mountain datacentre, Pennsylvania, US Built in a limestone mine, this experimental data centre room cools equipment directly into the limestone, which can absorb 1.5 BTUs per square foot. Because of this absorption, the test room uses no cooled raised flooring, and it directs heat through ceiling panels and blows it across the roof of the shafts to cool. The facility also uses water from an underground lake to cool. The goal is to determine the site's geothermal properties and take advantage of them to save money.

  • Lakeside technology centre, Illinois, US Formerly the printing facility for the Sears catalogue, this building has been converted to a 1.1 million square foot data centre. The reinforced floors, tall ceilings and high capacity air ducts needed to accommodate printing presses proved suitable for data centre equipment and cooling needs as well. Now a telecom hotel leased to Equinix and Global Center, the building has room for 210,000 computer servers and stores 300,000 gallons of fuel to for backup generators.

  • The National Security Agency is building a £765 million data center on 240 acres outside Salt Lake City as a place to gather and analyse intelligence data. The 100,000 square foot Tier III, 65M Watt centre will have its own fuel and water storage, a chiller plant and fire suppression system. It will also be self-sustaining, with its own water and wastewater treatment plants, power, gas supply, battery backup, visitor-control facilities, vehicle inspection station and perimeter security. Construction got underway in January 2011 and is scheduled to last three years.

  • Facebook's Prineville, Oregon, data centre's green design includes 150,000 square feet of space and operates with 40% less power consumption that similarly sized conventional data centers. Part of the savings comes from pumping filtered ambient air through server rooms to cool the machines. Four rooms are dedicated to housing thousands of filters - much like those used in home heating/cooling systems. The downside of these rooms is that changing thousands of filters is a huge job, the company says. The design of the facility complies with Facebook's Open Compute Project, which shares the company's data centre designs publicly so other businesses can learn from their experience.

  • The Green Mountain Data Center is being built inside concrete buildings on a Norwegian island and has access to caves in adjacent mountains that once stored NATO military ammunition. The project is rolling out in two phases - the first 75,000 square feet, the second 43,000 square feet - and will take advantage of naturally cooled water to save on energy consumption. Water from an adjacent fjord at 46 degrees F will cool the facility, reducing its carbon footprint and attracting customers interested in reducing their consumption of fossil fuels, Green Mountain says. The facility is scheduled to be ready for customers by the end of 2012.

  • Located in Columbus, Indiana, Data Cave's 86,000 square foot data centre has to be able to withstand the onslaught of vicious Mid-Western tornadoes, known for ripping the roofs off structures and blowing out their walls. With that in mind, the company built the facility with a 4.5 million-pound roof that's eight inches thick and stiffened with half-inch reinforcing rods.

  • InfoBunker collocation facility, Iowa, US Built as a US Air Force bunker that could survive a nuclear attack, this underground facility's only outward sign is the communications tower left over from its military use, a parking lot and a few outbuildings, as shown in this photo by blogger Brian Tiemann, who took this picture during his visit there. The rest is underground. It is shielded from electromagnetic pulses, features isolation pads to shield equipment from shocks, stores enough diesel fuel for six days and 17,000 gallons of fresh water reserves.

  • Hosting company pair Networks is building a data centre in the Las Vegas desert that relies heavily on solar panels and taps into the commercial power grid only for backup. It will use a natural-gas power plant on the site and also some form of cogeneration that will make use of the heat generated by the plant. The company is pretty close-mouthed about the project, but says it's also using technology that it believes isn't used in any other data centre. It promises to tell more as the facility nears completion.

  • Located beneath a mountain in the Swiss Alps, the Swiss Fort Knox is nestled in a nuke-proof bunker that was created by the Swiss military during the 1960s as a Cold War defensive facility. It's got sabotage-proof cooling from an underground aquifer and has hotel-like sleeping and dining facilities. To get in requires passing through five separate security rooms, each locked off from the next until access is gained to the data center space below. The guards inside carry pepper spray and nightsticks because the risk of damage to servers is too great if there were gunfire.

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