Thursday, September 24, 2009

Unearthing the zero-carbon data centers

Who’s who? Kelly Smith, MD of Smartbunker


A very formal pose is struck by Kelly Smith, the managing director at Smartbunker – a data centre that claims it uses zero carbon energy.

Power used within the 30,000 square feet data centre is free from carbon emissions, being generated entirely from renewable resources.

If this is true, Greenbang wants to know more about this.

They say:

“Smartbunker’s zero carbon energy policy is a preferable alternative to ‘carbon offsetting’ in which carbon emitted by traditional energy supplies is theoretically neutralised by projects designed to extract carbon from the environment.

He says:

“All the elements of design guarantees that our customers have all the service and environmental benefits at no additional cost,”

Kelly has 20 years’ experience in IT. He co-founded Centrinet in 1995.

Smartbunker moves office space underground

by Catherine Woods

Smartbunker moves office space underground

Smartbunker managing director Kelly Smith always thought an ex-nuclear bunker would make a great data centre so when one of NATO’s old sites came on the market, he snapped it up.

“We’ve been in business since 1995. I’d heard about these sorts of places and quite often looked at them with envy. Over lunch one day, one of our managers mentioned that there was an ex-bunker quite close to us and that it was on the market,” Smith says.

The bunker is a 30,000 square foot centre with three metre-thick steel and tungsten reinforced walls. In other words, it’s the perfect place to hold data.

Smith bought the premises in 2003 although spent the next four years refurbishing the space. Despite being a lengthy project, Smith says it was much like refurbishing a normal office into a data centre. “It was like an office but totally underground,” he says. “We did things like refurbish generators and raise floors.”

One problem Smith encountered, however, had to do with communication because the bunker was “in the middle of nowhere”. Smith says Smartbunker partnered with BT to improve connectivity to the area. “It’s all very well having a nuclear bunker but if your connectivity with the outside world isn’t good, it makes a mockery of the whole thing.”

The data centre uses power which comes solely from Ecotricity wind farms dotted across the UK.

Pictured is a wind farm near the Smartbunker in Lincolnshire, England.

The underground data centre is the latest in a line of server rooms trying to embrace greener IT, including IBM's recent flat-pack centre and Sun Microsystems' data centre in a shipping container.

The Smartbunker is housed inside an old 1950s RAF radar station. Pictured is the outside view of the bunker - which is disguised to look like a three-bedroom bungalow.

Once inside, the bunker is three-storeys deep and encased in three-metre thick concrete walls.

The Smartbunker is getting a facelift from its post-RAF radar station days. Pictured is one of the underground meeting rooms.

Smith said: "When we tell people about an underground bunker they think of a dingy place with water running down the walls but it's just like a normal office."

The data centre opened for business in June 2007 and currently holds 20 racks of blade servers for its customers.

Pictured are some of the IBM Bladecenter servers currently housed in the Smartbunker.

The majority of the Smartbunker is currently standing empty, awaiting more blades to fill its 30,000 square foot of space.

Smith said: "The Smartbunker has room for tens of thousands of servers and before we reach that capacity we want to have more sites across the UK.

The underground data centre also has a stable temperature. Smith told "With us it's like being winter all the time and we are not at all affected by the sun."

While over-ground data centre power bills can go up in the summer months, Smith said the Smartbunker only has to cool the heat kicked out by its servers.

But the subterranean nature of the Smartbunker did make it tricky to connect the data centre to the outside world.

Smith said putting in the infrastructure was one of the key challenges which timed the launch and Smartbunker had to invest a lot with BT to bring in the connections.

One of the underground entrances to the Smartbunker server rooms is pictured above.

Managed services provider Centrinet has launched what it claims is the UK's first data centre that has zero carbon emissions.

The data centre has been built 100 metres underground in a former-RAF radar station. The so-called Smartbunker's zero carbon branding simply means all the power it uses comes from UK-based wind farms.

The Smartbunker houses blade servers and, because it escapes the sun's rays, it also requires less power for cooling purposes during the summer months.

Kelly Smith, managing director of Smartbunker, told "Whilst we're using zero carbon energy, which is more expensive for us to buy in the first place, by offsetting that power usage with more efficient servers and reduced cooling, we do not pass on those additional costs to our customers."

Smith said: "If you are carbon offsetting you are just using power and paying someone to plant a tree to replace the carbon elsewhere."

He added: "What we are saying is first of all use less power and of the power you have to use don't carbon offset it but use zero carbon power."

Pictured is the view down into the data centre bunker.

Photo credit: Gemma Simpson

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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.