Thursday, September 24, 2009

Underground Disaster-Proof Data Centers

Disaster-Proof Data Centers
Companies Look To Bunker-Style Hosting Sites For Protection

Key Points

• Underground data centers offer ultimate protection against natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

• Hosting companies are taking over old military bunkers or abandoned mines to create data centers.

• Bunkers offer lower cooling costs plus extra security services such as biometric readers and armed guards.

CIOs who worry about what a bad storm, flood, or fire could do to their corporate data center might consider the ultimate in disaster recovery sites—the bomb shelter. There are a handful of underground data center hosting sites, built in old bomb shelters or mines, and their popularity with private businesses is on the rise. “We see a lot more [bunker-style data centers] coming up,” says Michael Petrino, vice president of data center consulting firm PTS Data Center Solutions (, who says he’s worked with 10 such data centers over the past few years.

With names like The Underground and InfoBunker, their purpose is fairly clear—to offer total protection against any and all disasters that might bring down a regular data center. Petrino points to financial firms, utility companies, and any publicly traded company that is subject to Sarbanes-Oxley and other government regulations as being prime customers for hardened data centers. Continental Airlines, for example, has a backup data center inside the Montgomery Westland bunker ( in Montgomery, Texas, which is a former nuclear fallout shelter.

Other companies don’t have such sensitive operations as an airline or bank but still want the security of having an indestructible backup location. Wikia, which operates a consumer publishing platform, went looking for a disaster recovery center in 2007 and wound up renting space inside the United States Secure Hosting Center ( in Monticello, Iowa. The Iowa center offers a central location between Wikia’s primary San Jose and secondary New Jersey data centers and pretty much guarantees that Wikia sites won’t be down should there be a major disaster on either coast.

“We wanted a disaster recovery location mainly to protect against fire and earthquake in the Bay area. Our entire business relies on being online, so we need to be able to continue to function if [our] primary data center goes away,” says Artur Bergman, the VP of engineering and operations at Wikia.

There were other factors behind the decision, namely service levels and costs. Bergman notes that the real estate costs are lower in Iowa, compared to California and New Jersey, leading to more attractive rates for data center space. But the fact that the center was underground and essentially disaster-proof was also an attractive feature. “If we are spending that money for disaster recovery, we felt it should fit that function as well as possible,” says Bergman.

Behind The Bunker

The majority of the data center bunkers in the U.S. were originally built as either bomb shelters or bomb-proof communications facilities for the government during the Cold War or are inside old mines or caves. USSHC, for instance, was originally one of several bunker locations established by the U.S. government to protect military and government telecommunications links in the event of a foreign attack on the U.S. Iron Mountain’s The Underground, the oldest bunker data center in the U.S., was formerly an iron ore mine.

Computer data and communications are at least as important as electricity to most businesses, and a disaster could put this important data at risk. Considering this, the idea of putting the corporate server inside a bunker may sound pretty good to many CIOs. Even fairly small-scale local disasters can quickly create a surge in interest for disaster-proof data centers. When Iowa experienced flooding last spring, and hundreds of businesses in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids found themselves with waves lapping at their doorsteps, USSHC began fielding a deluge of inquiries, often from businesses looking to move in that week.

“It often takes that kind of an event to get people interested,” says Isaac Helgens, project and marketing director at USSHC. “People often put off colocating because they love their servers, they want to hold them close. But these days, it’s not necessary to have your servers right with you. Anything you can do locally, you can do remotely.”

Helgens notes that a big advantage of a bunker data center is not so much its underground location—though that is important in the event of a hurricane or tornado—but that it is an independent structure, not shared with any other tenant. “We’ve seen good above-ground data centers, with good structures and fire detection, but their own neighbors on other floors presented a high risk. If you have a call center above your data center, for example, then you have a fire suppression system up there that may go off and wreak havoc on the floor below it. There’s also plumbing that can leak. Or another tenant could be running a fireworks factory for all you know,” says Helgens.

What You Get In A Bunker

Underground data centers typically feature 3- or 4-foot thick walls, fire proofing, and fire detection. Generators, fuel tanks, and cooling systems are usually either underground or just under the surface, to protect them from being destroyed by wind or lightening.

Besides the disaster-proof infrastructure, such centers also have high levels of service and security. InfoBunker (, in Des Moines, Iowa, offers biometric keypads and pan and zoom security cameras. Cavern Technologies ( in Lenexa, Kan., has security guards, smart card access, and motion detectors. Iron Mountain’s The Underground in Pennsylvania provides armed guards, magnetometers, X-ray scanners, and visitor escorts.

As with regular data center providers, bunker centers provide various concierge services and data center staff to help customers manage their equipment. Should a customer at USSHC need to switch its operations to its backup site at USSHC, it provides the staff with work facilities, office space, phones, and other standard equipment. While it assumes that the customer’s staff will come in to man the backup operation, USSHC provides support staff to help get started.

Although the costs of security, services, and infrastructure tend to be higher with a bunker, there are savings in other areas. For instance, underground data centers are naturally cooler and can take advantage of geothermal energy. “Once you go underground, you have a much lower, steady temperature. It’s the same benefit a cave offers you. I’ve seen several reports that put the savings at upwards of 30% per year in energy usage,” says Petrino. Depending upon the region, utility rates may be cheaper, as well. In Iowa, for instance, customers can get power for $12 to $15 per amp, according to Helgens. At the same time, bandwidth rates may be higher if the bunker is in a remote location, as many are. USSHC pays two to three times the rates for bandwidth that they would if they were located in a major city.

For Wikia staff to fly to the Iowa data center, they would have to pay over $850 per person, with at least one connection. Instead, they have opted to fly into Chicago and drive the extra five hours by rental car. Because they only do it once or twice a year, it’s not a major issue, but for companies that want closer contact with their backup sites, it could be a problem.

For most customers considering a bunker, however, it’s the remote location that adds to the appeal, as it means there is less of a chance for a terrorist attack or security breach. New bunker data centers continue to be opened in rural or small-town spots—such as in tiny Hastings, Neb., where the newly launched Prairie Bunkers ( plans to turn 184 WWII naval ammunition storage bunkers into individual data centers. Other companies are working on various underground data center projects, most hosted but a few being built for internal company use. Petrino says he’s aware of at least three financial firms and a government entity that are building their own bunkers.

“As the criticality of data comes into play for more and more businesses, offsite tape storage alone won’t be enough,” he says. “Clients are pushing for more and better data backup. Tapes get lost after all. So if you have these types of [online, secured] facilities, you can be more competitive.”

by Sue Hildreth

U.S. Data Center Bunkers

Data Center Location URL
Cavern Technologies Lenexa, Kan.
DataChambers Winston-Salem, N.C.
InfoBunker Des Moines, Iowa
Iron Mountain Butler County, Pa.
Montgomery Westland Montgomery, Texas
Prairie Bunkers Hastings, Neb.
StrataSpace Louisville, Ky.
SpringNet Underground Springfield, Mo.
US Secure Hosting Center Monticello, Iowa

No comments:

Post a Comment

Underground Secure Data Center Operations

Technology based companies are building new data centers in old mines, caves, and bunkers to host computer equipment below the Earth's surface.

Underground Secure Data Center Operations have a upward trend.

Operations launched in inactive gypsum mines, caves, old abandoned coal mines, abandoned solid limestone mines, positioned deep below the bedrock mines, abandoned hydrogen bomb nuclear bunkers, bunkers deep underground and secure from disasters, both natural and man-made.

The facility have advantages over traditional data centers, such as increased security, lower cost, scalability and ideal environmental conditions. There economic model works, despite the proliferation of data center providers, thanks largely to the natural qualities inherent in the Underground Data Centers.

With 10,000, to to over a 1,000,000 square feet available, there is lots of space to be subdivided to accommodate the growth needs of clients. In addition, the Underground Data Centers has an unlimited supply of naturally cool, 50-degree air, providing the ideal temperature and humidity for computer equipment with minimal HVAC cost.

They are the most secure data centers in the world and unparalleled in terms of square footage, scalability and environmental control.

Yet, while the physical and cost benefits of being underground make them attractive, they have to also invested heavily in high-speed connectivity and redundant power and fiber systems to ensure there operations are not just secure, but also state-of-the-art.

There initially focused on providing disaster recovery solutions, and backup co-location services.

Clients lease space for their own servers, while other provides secure facilities, power and bandwidth. They offers redundant power sources and multiple high-speed Internet connections through OC connected to SONET ring linked to outside connectivity providers through redundant fiber cables.

Underground Data Centers company augments there core services to include disaster recovery solutions, call centers, NOC, wireless connectivity and more.

Strategic partnering with international, and national information technology company, enable them to offer technology solutions ranging from system design and implementation to the sale of software and equipment.

The natural qualities of the Underground Data Centers allow them to offer the best of both worlds premier services and security at highly competitive rates.

Underground Data Centers were established starting in 1990's but really came into there own after September 11 attacks in 2001 when there founders realized the former mines, and bunker offered optimal conditions for a data center. The mines, and bunkers offered superior environmental conditions for electronic equipment, almost invulnerable security and they located near power grids.

Adam Couture, a Mass.-based analyst for Gartner Inc. said Underground Data Centers could find a niche serving businesses that want to reduce vulnerability to any future attacks. Some Underground Data Centers fact sheet said that the Underground Data Center would protect the data center from a cruise missile explosion or plane crash.

Every company after September 11 attacks in 2001 are all going back and re-evaluating their business-continuity plans, This doesn't say everybody's changing them, but everybody's going back and revisiting them in the wake of what happened and the Underground Data Center may be just that.

Comparison chart: Underground data centers

Five facilities compared
Name InfoBunker, LLC The Bunker Montgomery Westland Cavern Technologies Iron Mountain The Underground
Location Des Moines, Iowa* Dover, UK Montgomery, Tex. Lenexa, Kan. Butler County, Penn.*
In business since 2006 1999 2007 2007 Opened by National Storage in 1954. Acquired by Iron Mountain 1998.
Security /access control Biometric; keypad; pan, tilt and zoom cameras; door event and camera logging CCTV, dogs, guards, fence Gated, with access control card, biometrics and a 24x7 security guard Security guard, biometric scan, smart card access and motion detection alarms 24-hour armed guards, visitor escorts, magnetometer, x-ray scanner, closed-circuit television, badge access and other physical and electronic measures for securing the mine's perimeter and vaults
Distance underground (feet) 50 100 60 125 220
Ceiling height in data center space (feet) 16 12 to 50 10 16 to 18 15 (10 feet from raised floor to dropped ceiling)
Original use Military communications bunker Royal Air Force military bunker Private bunker designed to survive a nuclear attack. Complex built in 1982 by Louis Kung (Nephew of Madam Chang Kai Shek) as a residence and headquarters for his oil company, including a secret, 40,000 square foot nuclear fallout shelter. The office building uses bulletproof glass on the first floor and reception area and 3-inch concrete walls with fold-down steel gun ports to protect the bunker 60 feet below. Limestone mine originally developed by an asphalt company that used the materials in road pavement Limestone mine
Total data center space (square feet) 34,000 50,000 28,000 plus 90,000 of office space in a hardened, above-ground building. 40,000 60,000
Total space in facility 65,000 60,000 28,000 3 million 145 acres developed; 1,000 acres total
Data center clients include Insurance company, telephone company, teaching hospital, financial services, e-commerce, security
monitoring/surveillance, veterinary, county government
Banking, mission critical Web applications, online trading NASA/T-Systems, Aker Solutions, Continental Airlines, Houston Chronicle, Express Jet Healthcare, insurance, universities, technology, manufacturing, professional services Marriott International Inc., Iron Mountain, three U.S. government agencies
Number of hosted primary or backup data centers 2 50+ 13 26 5
Services offered Leased data center space, disaster recovery space, wholesale bandwidth Fully managed platforms, partly managed platforms, co-location Disaster recovery/business continuity, co-location and managed services Data center space leasing, design, construction and management Data center leasing, design, construction and maintenance services
Distance from nearest large city Des Moines, about 45 miles* Canterbury, 10 miles; London, 60 miles Houston, 40 miles Kansas City, 15 miles Pittsburgh, 55 miles
Location of cooling system, includng cooling towers Underground Underground Above and below ground. All cooling towers above ground in secure facility. Air cooled systems located underground. Cooling towers located outside
Chillers located above ground to take advantage of "free cooling." Pumps located underground.
Location of generators and fuel tanks Underground Above ground and below ground Two below ground, four above ground. All fuel tanks buried topside. Underground Underground
*Declined to cite exact location/disatance for security reasons.