16 March 2020

Six unexpected data center locations

New York, 16 March 2020: According to the Learning Hub, by 2025, the global video streaming market is estimated to be worth $124.57 billion. In 2019, Statista reported a 45.2 percent penetration rate for digital video streaming across the United States, all while the world watches almost 165 million hours of Netflix a day and sends 204 million emails in just one minute.1 We live in a society ruled by information and data, and nowadays, almost all our actions generate some kind of online data that then has to be stored somewhere.

In addition to the increase in the number of people with access to the Internet – in 2018 North America had over 396 million internet users2 – the arrival of 5G and the Internet of Things is increasing connectivity and driving data volume substantially. This growth poses a challenge of storage and space, since data centers take up considerable physical space. In addition, they need to be placed near the end user to ensure that data travels a shorter distance to end users, reducing latency and improving performance. 

The location of a data center, therefore, is crucial, and we can find them in places around the world we never would have imagined. DE-CIX, the world’s leading Internet Exchange operator, has gathered a selection of six data centers located in the most unusual places on our planet:

  • Mines full of servers. Data center cooling is a major challenge, which has created much debate about the efficiency and energy consumption of these buildings. Servers need to be operational 24 hours a day without interruption, which generates a lot of heat, but high temperatures are detrimental to their proper functioning. However, Norway has found an effective solution to this challenge: installing a data center inside an old mine.
  • The Lefdal Mine Data Center is the most innovative example of a reconverted mine. Its 120,000 square meters are cooled by water from the Norwegian fjords, and all the energy it uses comes from renewable sources. Mines like these are located throughout North America, including Springfield, Missouri, where Bluebird Network operates the Bluebird Underground Data Center. This Bluebird Network facility is an enterprise-class colocation facility and data center located 85 feet below ground and surrounded by solid limestone, leveraging natural resources for cooling and protection.  Another mine-based data center is Iron Mountain’s facility in Pennsylvania.
  • The church that houses data. In Helsinki, Finland, the Uspenski Cathedral already had something curious below its foundations: a World War II air raid shelter. However, this shelter is now a data center. Down there, the temperature is already cool enough for the servers, and the heat they emit is absorbed and distributed to the heating system in the area, which provides enough energy for 500 homes. It seems that this church is not the only one with this feature: the Christian Fellowship Church sold 22.6 acres at Beaumeade Corporate Park in Ashburn to Cologix in 2019 for $38 million (or $1.68 million per acre).  Cologix is planning to construct three data centers totaling 1 million square feet across the 22.6-acre site.
  • A literal data bunker. As seen above, military shelters can be a good option for housing a data center. In 2008, a data center was opened in Sweden in a former nuclear bunker from the Cold War era. The Bahnhof Pionen facility is located 30 meters underground and is guarded by a 40cm-thick steel door. To make it more pleasant for the staff that works underground all day, the center has vertical gardens, waterfalls, and a 2,600-liter fish tank. In Marseille, there is a U-Boat Bunker that has been retrofitted as a data center.  In 2009, Data Center Knowledge’s writer at that time, Rich Miller, now with Data Center Frontier, wrote about a variety of underground bunkers serving as data centers.
  • Data that’s almost frozen. Facebook is one of the largest technology companies on the planet, and as such, it has to manage huge amounts of data. Mark Zuckerberg's company was aware that it had to address the issue of cooling, setting up a data center in the Swedish city of Lulea, in the Arctic Circle. The system takes advantage of the low temperatures of the outside air to cool the interior and thus relies less on additional generators.
  • Data below the water’s surface. More than half the world's population lives within 200 kilometers of the coast. That's why Microsoft is developing a pilot project for an underwater data center off the coast of Scotland. These centers are the size of a shipping container — about 12 meters long — and are prefabricated and thus easy to install. Although this is a test project, it is another example of the original solutions being implemented to ensure better network quality.
  • Outer space: data’s next frontier. If you think about it, it’s not that crazy.  In order to communicate with the International Space Station (ISS), the Voyager and mars rovers, NASA created the New Solar System Internet in 2016 by establishing operational Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) service on the International Space Station (ISS).  In essence, by enabling DTN on the ISS, the ISS is also the first space-based data center, able to transmit and receive data between operations centers and their payloads aboard the station.  In order to do so, NASA worked closely with Dr. Vinton G. Cerf (Vint Cerf) — widely known as one of the “fathers of the internet.”

“In North America, we come across many data center partners with interesting locations.  Another that comes to mind is DataBank’s Dallas-based data center located in a former Federal Reserve building, which is also home to a former gun range in the basement, as well as a massive vault,” says Ed d’Agostino, VP and GM of DE-CIX North America. “While they are all very interesting and tell great stories, we have to always keep in mind proximity to users who demand low-latency connectivity for a better experience.”

In this ecosystem, the role of Internet Exchanges takes on greater relevance as a link capable of making connections from a single location between networks present in the most remote locations and those found in large cities. North America is home to many Internet Exchanges, including DE-CIX New York, the largest and fastest-growing Internet Exchange in that market, and DE-CIX Dallas, the largest network and carrier-neutral exchange in the Southeast, now ranking among the top 20 IXs in North America.  Each market presents its own challenges and opportunities with more and more network providers gaining access to DE-CIX North America to reach hundreds and thousands of individual networks throughout the world. 

1 Entertainment.ie – Did you ever wonder how many emails we send per minute?

2 Statista – Number of internet users in North America from 2017 to 2023