Constantly evolving demand for security, sustainable cooling, and connectivity at the edge is pushing data centre designers to embrace some of the weirdest, wackiest, most-innovative approaches we’ve ever seen in the industry.
From the Arctic Circle to the ocean floor - and even in the vacuum of space itself - it’s getting harder and harder to find somewhere that someone isn’t building a data centre. At the same time, the long-standing practice of data centre operators repurposing existing structures, turning everything from neglected landmarks to abandoned cold war bunkers into hubs for modern digital infrastructure, is leading to some truly out there facilities. Welcome to Data Centre Magazine’s list of the seven weirdest data centres on (or off) Earth.
07: Ukraine: Going Nuclear
Bitcoin mining is a controversial issue, thanks to its financial instability and massive carbon emissions. However, that hasn’t stopped a number of governments from building massive crypto-mining operations in order to bolster state funds. In Ukraine - just a few miles from where the country’s civil war still rages - the government is in the process of building an eye-wateringly huge data centre cluster (we’re talking between 250-500MW - For context, the entire Amsterdam data centre market has an estimated capacity of just over 1.6GW, and the bolt of lightning that sent Marty McFly back to the future coughed up a measly 1.21GW) hooked up to the country’s nuclear power plants with the express purpose of mining Bitcoin (and locking up state secrets).
06: Nautilus: Making a Splash
Real estate is an increasing concern for data centre operators - there just isn’t enough land. Micro data centre startup Nautilus has one answer for that problem. The company’s flagship project - located in the port of Stockton on the San Francisco Bay - is a 7 MW floating data centre on a barge that uses seawater for cooling and doesn’t have a terrestrial footprint - two things that are making the project extremely popular in the drought-stricken, property price nightmare that is central California.
05: Pionen: Welcome to White Mountain… Mr. Bond
Located 100ft beneath the streets of Stockholm, Pionen White Mountain might just be the most secure data centre in the world. Owned and operated by Bahnhof, the facility is potentially capable of riding out a nuclear apocalypse with its contents still intact. There are plenty of data centres that can pull this feat off (we’re told - no one’s had to test that theory just yet, and it’s probably the case that, if the folks at Bahnhof are wrong, no one’s going to be around to leave them a bad review on Yelp) but it’s White Mountain’s approach to interior design that really makes it a special case.
The facility has often been compared to a set from a James Bond film, with verdant tropical plants, striking modern designs, and the obligatory 40cm-thick steel blast door. Its servers are also backed up by generators made from the repurposed engines of two diesel submarines
04: Cold storage: the GitHub Arctic Code Vault
Deep within the arctic circle, GitHub has locked away a complete record of the world’s open source code, designed to last for a thousand years. Surrounded by raging, ice-cold ocean, home to polar bears and arctic foxes, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard is one of the most isolated and inhospitable places on Earth. And, in 1,000 years, it might be one of the last remaining repositories of humanity’s collective knowledge. On February 2, 2020, GitHub took a snapshot of all active public repositories on its platform. The code was archived by the company’s project partner Piql, which transferred the 21TB of code onto 186 reels of piqlFilm and placed it at the bottom of a retrofitted mine shaft.
Now, we know this isn’t technically a data centre, but given our collective affection for tape storage here at Data Centre Magazine - not to mention the sheer apocalypse-prepper coolness - we couldn’t resist giving this vast repository of information a spot on our list.
03: SEGA Arcades: F(r)ogger
Ok this one isn’t, strictly speaking, one data centre, but rather a hypothetical network of high-powered GPUs and CPUs strewn throughout Japanese gaming giant SEGA’s extensive network of video game arcades. Weird enough for you? Thought so.
Last year, SEGA announced plans to tap into the computing power in its network of gaming arcades in order to effectively turn them into a network of mini-edge data centres. The practice is called “fog” computing and relies on tonnes of devices working together in close physical and digital proximity. SEGA believes that, by using its 200 arcades as the foundation for a fog gaming platform, it could reduce cloud gaming latencies to less than a millisecond. The project is still very much in its most nascent stages. But, if successful, it could provide an additional purpose and revenue stream for struggling arcades, not to mention provide the framework for building fog networks out of existing infrastructure to serve other industries.
02: Beijing Highlander: Data centres in the depths
Data centre design frequently looks at site selection as a way to access local resources cheaply - or, even better, for free. That can involve choosing to build your data centre somewhere cold, or with good access to renewables, or - in the case of Beijing Highlander, at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Unveiled at Zhuhai port in Guangdong province, China, this data centre is set to begin operating in the next five years, currently putting it on track to be the world’s first commercial underwater data centre. By taking advantage of low, stable ambient temperatures on the ocean floor, and using seawater for cooling, Highlander’s 100 rack data centre can supposedly reduce its energy consumption from cooling by as much as 30%.
01: NTT and SKY Perfect: Data centres in space
Space - as the seminal works of Ridley Scott have demonstrated time and time again - is hell. Freezing temperatures, no atmosphere, and brutal solar radiation make it quite possibly the least-hospitable environment known to humankind. Predictably, more than a few companies are trying to build a data centre out there. One of the most promising projects was announced recently by Japanese telecom NTT and satellite tech firm SKY Perfect, and plans to launch a data centre into space as early as 2025, and begin commercial operations the following year.
I guess no one in space can hear you complain about packet loss.