In pictures: The world's coolest, greenest datacentres

Datacentres are taking advantage of energy saving technologies to run more efficiently in order to be kind to the environment and the bottom line

  • Power efficiency is the driver for new data centers. It has some of the world’s largest providers scrambling north and toward the shore in order to take advantage of naturally cool air and water that can siphon off the enormous amounts of heat their gigantic computing centers generate. They are also exploring more environmentally friendly power sources such as hydro-electric, solar and fuel cell in order to reduce their carbon footprints. Here are 10 notable examples from around the world.

  • Titan Data Center, Moses Lake, Wash. Built in the command and control center of a former U.S. Air Force Titan missile base in central Washington, ServerFarm Realty’s Titan Data Center structure was built to Department of Defense specifications to block electrical, mechanical or acoustic emanations that might unintentionally disclose data being transmitted. The base was in use by the military only between 1963 and 1965. The site is located in a high-desert area, making it possible to employ evaporative cooling, which the company says is free. Using 85% hydroelectric power keeps the facility’s carbon footprint low.

  • Interxion, Kista, Sweden This data center housed in an old factory building uses seawater cooling to rack up impressive cost savings. The company says the cost is like paying about 3 cents per kilowatt hour for conventional air conditioning. The water comes in via underground channels built for earlier cooling needs in the area and is sent through two separate data centers. The water comes in the first at 42.8 degrees F, enters the second at 53.6 degrees and exits at 64.4 degrees. Then a heat pump pulls off some of that accumulated heat to warm local homes. The company says the setup saves $1 million a year.

  • Facebook, Lulea, Sweden Located near the Arctic Circle, Facebook’s Lulea, Sweden, data center relies on cold ambient air to keep down temperatures of its servers. The air is treated with water vapor to give it the proper humidity and after cooling servers, some of the air is used to heat the offices. The facility runs entirely on hydroelectric power deemed so reliable that Facebook reduced the on-site backup supply. The company claims the ratio between power needed for the entire facility and the power consumed just by computing is 1.04:1 as compared to 3:1 for conventional data centers. Facebook’s custom servers can run safely at 85 degrees F, further saving on cooling needs.

  • Google, Chanhua, Taiwan Google expanded its Taiwan data center rather than try to build one in Hong Kong, and uses lower night temperatures to pull heat from water that is used to cool the server racks. The water is stored in insulated tanks from which it is pumped through the data center during the day.

  • NextFort, Chandler, Ariz. If physical security is important, NextFort’s data center may offer what’s needed. The facility’s 130,000 square-foot structure is divided up into high-density computing suites (HCS), each of which has its own steel and concrete walled room with metal door. The facility itself is built behind 23-foot tall concrete walls. Each HCS has its own secure conduit for cabling leading to collocated carrier rooms for WAN connectivity.

  • NSA, Ft. Meade, Md. While the 70,000-square-foot NSA data center – part of a new 600,000-square-foot computing center – is still under construction, it is catching attention for its use of wastewater to cool the facility. The data center will use as much as 5 million gallons per day supplied by the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant (pictured at left) rather than buying from water utilities or drilling its own well, both of which would stress the underlying aquifer. Even with the installation of a $40 million pumping station and paying as much as $2 million per year for the water, NSA says the wastewater is less expensive.

  • Orange’s Normandy, Val-de-Reuil, France Orange will dedicate half of its data center at the 172,000-square-foot Normandy computing center to internal jobs running on 35,000 virtual machines and the rest to supporting customer services. The company chose the site for its chilly weather that can air-cool the facility 11 months out of the year, saving enough electricity to supply a town of 30,000 people, the company says. It also features a green wall that helps cool the building by drawing off heat via the moisture the vegetation uses.

  • Eni Green Data Center, Pavia, Italy Energy company Eni claims this facility has the world’s best power usage effectiveness rating at 1.2. It achieves this in part by using ambient air to cool servers and by tightening use of non-computing energy as much as possible. For instance, the facility’s room lighting won’t work unless someone has keyed into the building, so lights can’t be left burning when no one is there. The company claims the complex creates 335,000 fewer pounds of CO2 emissions per year than it would if it were a conventionally designed data center.

  • Green High Performance Computing Center, Holyoke, Mass. Powered by electricity that is generated 70% from hydro-electric power, this facility was built with energy savings in mind by five Massachusetts universities – Harvard, MIT, Boston University, University of Massachusetts and Northeastern University. The design includes air cooling the water used to pull heat from the hot aisles within the data center, and low fan pressure in its ventilation system to reduce the power the fans use. Electricity is supplied by Holyoke Gas and Electric, which gets more than 70% of its energy from hydroelectric generators.

  • Topaz Data Cener, South Jordan, Utah The second phase of eBay’s Topaz Data Center deserves attention for its 72,000 square feet of solar paneling on the roof that generates more than 900,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. It’s also using Bloom Energy Servers – fuel cells powered by natural gas – as the primary power source for the facility, using the conventional power grid for backup. In the works is another 5 megawatt power facility to be run off the waste heat from pumps used to force the natural gas 20 miles to the eBay site. The second phase Topaz data center emits 49% less CO2 than phase 1, eBay says.

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