Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Underground Data Centers Tips from Data Bunker Veterans

cavern-datacenterOne of the data halls at Cavern Technologies in Kansas, which offers few clues that the facility is 75 feet below ground. (Photo: Cavern Technologies)

The Pros and Cons of Underground Data Centers

October 9th, 2013 By: Rich Miller
The entrance to the Cavern Technologies data center in Lenexa, Kansas, which houses its customer servers more than 75 feet underground. The company is among a growing number of data bunkers storing data for high-security clients. (Photo: Cavern Technologies)

ORLANDO, Fla. - The data bunker industry is growing, as more customers seek out ultra-secure underground hosting for their IT operations. Operators of subterranean server farms say these environments are similar to above-ground facilities, but they often must address misperceptions about underground sites, many of which are housed in former limestone mines.
The emergence of underground data centers was the focus of a session at last week’s Data Center World Fall conference, in which several experts discussed the advantages and challenges of underground data centers, and offered tips to consider when evaluating a data bunker.
“The underground data center space is experiencing rapid growth due to the efficiency and speed to market it offers,” said John Clune, the president of Cavern Technologies, which operates a data center in a limestone mine in Lenexa, Kansas. “One of the bigger challenges has been the perception of underground data centers. People are imagining a tight cubbyhole with a guy with a light on his helmet. The reality is that we’ve got 18 foot ceilings.”
Cavern Technologies is among a cluster of underground facilities in the Midwest, which also includes SubTropolis,  The Mountain Complex and SpringNet Underground in Missouri; and the InfoBunker and U.S. Secure Hosting in Iowa.

Tips from Data Bunker Veterans

Not all underground data centers are created equal, and potential customers need to shop carefully and be mindful of the differences between traditional and underground facilities, according to architect Kerry Knott of Bell/Knott & Associates. Knott has worked on a number of underground business parks and data centers in Kansas and Missouri, and offers some insights into evaluating a data bunker.
“Data center buildouts are a good use for these kind of facilities,” said Knott. “Once the data center is built, if you take someone in there blindfolded, they’d never know they were underground. You’ve got the same equipment; it’s just been an underground facility.”
But there are some differences. Here are some pros and cons to consider with facilities built in limestone mines:

Speed to Market: Clune says Cavern was recently able to deploy 5,000 square feet of data center space for a client in just 60 days. “The speed to market is impressive in the underground,” said Clune. One factor is that there’s no need to build or adapt a shell, as the underground space has already been created and all that is needed is the framing and buildout of the data halls. Another benefit is permitting from local officials. “In every underground I’ve worked with, we have had a blanket permit” once the initial underground space is created,  said Knott. “It’s one of the advantages of underground structures. That could be an 8 to 10 week savings.” Another benefit is that construction can continue year-round, with no weather delays.

Construction Costs: Underground data centers can also be cheaper, Knott said, since there’s no expense to construct a concrete shell. Subterranean structures also offer potential savings on disaster-proofing, especially in the Midwest. “To build a tornado-proof building above ground can cost an extra $100 a square foot,” said Knott, who added that customers often inquire about other types of disasters. “People are concerned about collapse, and they’re worried about earthquakes,” he said. “An underground space, unlike the building above ground, doesn’t move and doesn’t need to be reinforced. An earthquake doesn’t affect the enclosure at all, but you do have to brace the improvements.”

Facility History and Origin: Recently-built underground facilities are usually appropriate, but those that were mined in the 1960s and earlier may not be. “To be an acceptable space for a data center, it has to have been mined for commercial development,” says Knott. “The limestone has to be preserved in the proper thickness and have structural integrity. The room size is also important, because the columnar support will be rock columns that may be 25 to 30 feet in diameter.”
The size and placement of these columns impacts the technical space. “Optimizing the layout within the property is essential,” said Knott. “It’s tough to get 90-degree corners with underground columns, so you have to be creative, since almost all your equipment is square. With the restrictions of the columns and placement of the corridor, you have to work with what you have. It can be awkward if these are haphazardly shaped.”

Cooling and Ventilation: Underground spaces are naturally cool, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay that way once you fill them with servers. “Heat rejection is the biggest concern and the biggest challenge,” said Knott. “Most underground spaces have their own fresh air and ventilation system, but that’s generally for comfort rather than the kind of heat we’re putting into the space with the data center. Your options are to drill (ventilation) holes up through the top or horizontally to the exterior.”

Placement of Mechanical Equipment: Some mechanical and electrical equipment requires ventilation and must be housed in an exterior yard. There are several options to address this, which customers must consider if their goal is disaster avoidance, as this equipment will be more exposed. “Generators and air-cooled chillers can be placed against an exterior wall or protected with an outside wall,” said Knott. “You can also build another underground chamber to house them.” Another issue to consider is fire suppression systems, and what happens with water in the event the system is ever discharged in part of the facility.

Staff Considerations: There won’t be any daylight in an underground data center, but that’s not different from many above-ground data centers, Knott says. A bigger concern for staff might be parking, as underground facilities can be large, and that sometimes means that parking areas are a significant distance from the data center.

John Clune, President of Cavern Technologies
John Clune, President of Cavern Technologies, a Midwestern underground data center, talks about the pros and cons of underground data centers. While the underground temperature is a consistent 68 degrees, the data center engineers do have to accommodate for waste heat from servers and other gear. (Photo by Colleen Miller.)


Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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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.