New Underground Data Center Trend Takes Hold

24 Jul 2014 by Technology

Recently, data center operators have been looking for new ways to establish computing facilities. One such example is the July purchase of the former Chicago Sun-Times building by QTS Realty Trust Inc. According to the Post-Tribune, the newspaper printing plant will be repurposed and rehabilitated to make way for a multi-tenant data center.

Whereas some companies are looking to purchase existing structures and turn them into data centers, other groups are looking below the Earth’s surface. A new trend has taken hold in the technology industry where instead of building facilities from the ground-up, organizations are drilling below the terrain to establish underground data centers.

Iron Mountain’s Underground Pennsylvania Data Center

One company taking part in the trend is Iron Mountain, which began building its underground facility in Pennsylvania last year. According to Data Center Knowledge, the data center is situated in a former limestone mine 220 feet below the Earth’s surface and is comprised of 145 acres, or 1.7 million square feet, of space. The structure has the capacity to support up to 10 megawatts of critical power and provides connections to two carriers, with plans to add more in the near future.

The underground computing hub features both pre-built client space and custom data center engineering and design services, Iron Mountain stated. Mark Kidd, the company’s senior vice president and general manager of data centers, noted that the firm performed an extensive examination of the current market before constructing its underground facility.

“Most of today’s data center providers sell space,” Kidd pointed out. “We’re packaging together services that will enable enterprises to outsour

Iron Mountain is now also offering underground data bunkers that are “nuke proof,” and most often established in caves, or the former installations of telecommunications companies or military agencies. Such a data center is especially attractive for those with a prominent focus on security, including government groups, financial institutions, healthcare companies or others beholden to compliance standards.

One such group is Marriott, which leased 12,500 feet of space for data center disaster recovery in 2008.

“We have always had a rigorous and constant focus on having disaster preparedness in place,” noted Dan Blanchard, Marriott vice president of enterprise operations. “More than five years ago, we determined that we needed more flexibility and we got it. Today we have a data center that provides Marriott with tremendous capability for disaster recovery, and we have a great partner in Iron Mountain.”

Hong Kong Officials Consider Underground Data Centers: Top Challenges

When faced with the challenge of limited land for real estate development projects, officials in Hong Kong decided to look below the surface for a solution, and has thus began investigating the possibility of underground data centers. According to Data Center Knowledge, digging out underground caves and bunkers could be used not only for new data centers, but for home residences as well.

“Rock cavern development can be done, and data center use is a particularly good one,” noted Hilary Cordell of the Cordells real estate firm. “It’s on the government’s radar screen and it’s taking active steps but its not easy and some sites will be more suitable than others.”

In addition to finding satisfactory locations for these underground facilities, another main challenge of this kind of project is its price. GCN noted that if a data center tunnel were to be dug in Hong Kong, it would cost an estimated $600,000 per meter.

Benefits of Underground Data Centers

While there are no doubt issues to address, underground data centers do come with their share of benefits. Data Center Knowledge pointed out that such locations provide naturally cool temperatures – Iron Mountain’s facility has an average temperature of 52 degrees, and also has a nearby underground lake that can be leveraged for cooling purposes.

“[T]he facility … provides such natural advantages as low ambient temperature and geothermic cooling, which deliver some of the lowest available Power Utilization Effectiveness (PUE) values,” Iron Mountain stated.

Another advantage is security. GNC noted that many of these projects involve a pre-established military facility, which were originally built to withstand nuclear attacks and other disasters. As a result, those needing a high level of physical protection – such as groups in the federal sector – could find great benefits in an underground location.

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