Data center spending is soaring. According to a Fortune report, the US saw $18.2 billion in investment for building or buying data centers in the first half of 2017. Over the last 5 years, there has been a total of $45 billion investment in this sector. Some of this growth is taking place underground. Data center developers are using underground facilities to save time, money and resources.
Cavern Technologies has built a 115,000 square-foot data center 125 feet underground in Lenexa, Kansas. The facility is surrounded by natural limestone walls. The company considers its below-ground location an advantage over its competitors.
But the large data centers going underground is not a US phenomenon only. In Malta, energy services company Enemalta plc is partnering with private IP cloud operator Streamcast Technologies to invest €75 million to build a secure subterranean data facility. Another big underground development news in Europe is Lefdal Mine Datacenter (LMD). In May 2017, it opened its doors in Maloy, Norway. This 1.3 million square feet underground facility with 200 MW of capability has Rittal and IBM as its prominent clients.
Considerations for Underground Data Centers
Underground data centers have both pros and cons. The advantages and challenges are sometimes intertwined. Here are the considerations:
Time to Build: The complexity of carrying and installing equipment underground poses a unique challenge. Data center designers have to take into account the unique environment of the chosen site. But on the upside, there is no need to build the structure if a pre-existing mine facility or bunker is used. This can save time. Also, there is less bureaucratic red tape to deal with. This can also speed up the development process.
Cost of Construction: Due to the pre-existing walls and structures, building data centers underground is cheaper. And these data centers are automatically tornado-proof. However, earthquakes can be a legitimate concern. Data centers built in earthquake-prone areas have to consider the extra cost of reinforced structures.
Location Optimization: When using mining facilities, older structures might be less secure than newer installations. It’s worth evaluating the structural integrity of the location and environmental constraints. Data center designers also need to take into consideration the contours of the space and how it will fit with rectangular-shaped data center equipment.
Equipment Maintenance: Managers of underground facilities have to pay extra attention to equipment maintenance. For below-ground facilities, moving equipment in and out has extra challenges. So there is a need for planning to ensure that regular equipment maintenance and replacement can be handled efficiently.
Cooling and Ventilation: Underground facilities are naturally cool, which can cut down on power usage. But data center managers also need to consider how megawatts of equipment will affect the heat conditions. It’s crucial to properly design and test the ventilation systems to help keep the temperatures in check.
Natural Security: There is no need for extra fences and walls. The data centers are already secure. There is less chance of physical breaches.
Workforce Hiring: Depending on the location and the accessibility of the data center, hiring IT workers might be a challenge. If the data center is in a remote location, workers might not be interested. Also, there might be health concerns that will need to be addressed. If it is too difficult to hire workers, maintaining the underground data center will be difficult.
The trend of moving data centers underground will depend on the success of the current facilities. If they continue to provide high-quality services at lower costs, more businesses will start to consider underground data centers as viable options.