Given the growth in Big Data analytics, the advent of IoT, decentralization, and now AI for robotics, drones and autonomous vehicles, these developments have a significant impact on virtually every industry sector.
Equally significant are the places where these important compute and storage operations live. While there are many dimensions to operational risk, any assessment should begin with a location that provides assurances for the security and confidentiality of this sensitive and at times proprietary business function.
For some, the answer is right under their feet. By operating in facilities beneath the Earth’s surface in suitable geographic areas, these data center locations deliver a resiliency unmatched by any above-ground structure. The surrounding rock within a mine creates a natural shield from all weather extremes and events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. Severe weather comes in many different forms but exists everywhere. Any of these events can operationally impact any region or above-ground structure.
That said, some underground data center designs fail to consider the value associated with placing all critical infrastructure such as utility transformers, gensets and chillers underground. For example, our body’s critical organs are all located under our rib cage for two very important reasons – physical and operational protection.
This is akin to the logic behind placing critical infrastructure underground – physical and operational protection. Much like the weakest link in a chain, any critical infrastructure above ground or outside can significantly diminish the entire data center’s resiliency, performance and ultimately the assurances of being underground.
While it is easy to grasp the protective aspects from natural and unnatural events, there are a wide range of other day-to-day assurances and benefits realized by siting a data center underground. Maintaining an operationally stable temperature environment is much easier underground, functioning like a biosphere.
This permits all critical infrastructure to operate within known, tighter parameters, resulting in the highest efficiency levels and performance. Mechanical cooling systems no longer need to accommodate the wide range of temperatures from that blistering hot day in August to that below-zero day in January.
From a customer perspective, the naturally-cooled mine environment is very beneficial for the operating requirements of server racks and other hardware. As a result, cooling energy consumption is minimized, providing customers with savings on power usage year-round. Another often overlooked benefit is the “invisibility” fact.
These days, it’s no longer reasonable to suggest that IT operations are simply a “support” function. In most cases, IT is a thread within the fabric of business and business doesn’t happen unless IT works. Considerable time, attention and investments are dedicated to ensuring applications are running in parallel, operating systems exist virtualized on multiple servers, hardware reflects high availability configurations and network layer diversity exists.
At no additional cost, an underground data center hides all of this from anybody with an Internet connection and the ability to view satellite and street imaging.
Aside from these underground specific advantages, the ability to go subterranean is not ubiquitous. Only certain North American geological characteristics can support underground mining and the opportunity for data center development. Regardless of whether a company’s business model is enterprise, cloud or managed service provider, being underground offers real value and a level of assurance uncommon in the industry.
Todd Murren is general manager of Bluebird Underground Data Center