How To Build A Modern Data Center - InformationWeek
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4/27/2011
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How To Build A Modern Data Center

Borrowing ideas from Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, Vantage is building three wholesale data centers in Santa Clara that focus on energy efficiency.

Google's Oregon Data Center
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Google's Oregon Data Center
A new type of data center is going up in Santa Clara, Calif., built by Vantage, a specialist in creating modern computing space. The facility's design and energy use is only one step behind the leaders in the field, Google and Facebook.

Unlike Vantage, however, Google and Facebook tend to build their data centers in remote, optimum locations like the Columbia River Valley, where power is cheap, or in central Oregon where the cool nights and high desert climate aid in the fight to keep densely packed computer equipment from overheating.

Facebook built its most recent data center in Prineville, Ore., east of the Cascade Mountains and next to a river. That means it's got lots of water for cooling, with no need to use electricity-powered refrigeration units, called chillers. The ease with which the water evaporates as the ambient air passes through a sprayed mist or over water seeping across a membrane means there's no need to install chillers for even the hottest days of summer. The process of water evaporation cools the air about 15 degrees. After it reabsorbs data center heat, it is dumped from the building.

On April 19, BendBroadband likewise announced it had just opened a 30,000 square foot data center, the Vault, in Bend, Ore., taking advantage of the same cooling principles. It also put solar panels on the roof to generate electricity from the high desert sunshine.

Unlike Facebook and BendBroadband, Vantage is building three "wholesale" data centers on an 18-acre campus in Santa Clara, a city in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Vantage faces summer days that are too hot to rely only on outside airflow. It will use water-cooled air, as Facebook does, as much as it can--but it can't rely on that technique by itself.

In addition, Vantage's data center, a short distance off Highway 101, wasn't built to support an Internet application, like Facebook. It's designed to run enterprise transaction and other mission critical systems. Vantage must provide service-level agreements (SLAs) to customers that leave no margin for temporary slowdowns due to a heat wave. It's got chillers installed for use in summer heat. Without them, it has a low Power Usage Effectiveness rating of 1.20, matching what Google says is its state of the art. With the chillers running, its PUE rises to 1.29. A PUE is a measure of the power delivered to site versus the amount actually used in computing, telecommunications, and other primary services.

Facebook recently claimed the lowest PUE for a data center at 1.07 in an event April 7 at its Palo Alto headquarters.

Jim Trout, the CEO of Vantage, is an enthusiast of data center designs. He talked in an interview about how a modern data center can drive down by one third the total energy consumed when compared to older data centers. (Facebook claimed Prineville represented a 38% savings over its previous data center construction.) Trout is considered a rising star in the field, having previously been president of the wholesale data center company CRG West, which since has become CoreSite, a Vantage competitor across town. He has also been a senior VP of technical operations at Digital Realty Trust, another wholesale data center space supplier in Santa Clara and elsewhere.

Vantage was financed with an undisclosed amount of money by Silver Lake Partners, partly to give Trout a chance to build more state of the art data centers. Vantage's Walsh Avenue campus, once its second and third phases are done in about three years, will represent a $300 million investment. Vantage held an event on April 22, Earth Day, to describe its latest design initiatives. David Gottfried, founder of the U.S. Green Building Council, was the lead-off speaker.

Trout said the biggest savings come from how a data center brings power off the grid and into its building, with another set of savings coming from the design of airflow through racks of servers. He said he thinks Vantage has matched Google and Facebook in its ability to distribute power to the data center sections, but he also said Facebook excelled in its implementation of airflow through its server racks.

"They took the servers out of the boxes, out of the sleeve, disentangling them and allowing greater ease of air movement through a 42-unit rack," he noted, calling it a major innovation.

He doesn't have that option. "We are not touching the servers and routers," he said. In a wholesale data center, Vantage provides plug and play space, with power and cooling. The customer installs the equipment--servers, routers, and switches.

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