Taking Green to the Extreme

For the typical enterprise, going green usually means a healthy dose of virtualization and perhaps a new power management stack to make sure data loads are being processed efficiently.

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Increasingly, though, the green movement is heading off to the extreme, particularly when it comes to building new facilities from scratch. I’ve blogged before about free cooling, in which centers are being designed to tap into natural air and water sources, but I am starting to wonder at some of the lengths people will go to trim their energy bill.

Our first example is Iron Mountain, which recently made it onto InfoWorld’s Green 15 list by building its latest data center, “Room 48,” 200 feet underground in an abandoned limestone mine in Western Pennsylvania. The mine has a constant air temperature of 55 degrees F, and the limestone provides a natural means of heat absorption. This, plus an improved air-flow containment design and advanced automation lead Iron Mountain execs to calculate they could cut their energy consumption in half.

If going underground strikes you as too claustrophobic, how about something in the wide open spaces of, say, Wyoming? That’s where Green House Data set up shop — just outside of Cheyenne, specifically. With a tax incentive from the state government, the company is able to function entirely on wind energy despite that fact that, at the moment at least, wind costs 10 to 15 percent more than traditional coal-fired energy.

And then there is Yahoo, which is starting construction of the Yahoo Computing Coop (YCC) in Lockport, NY. It seems that at some point, a bright, young Yahoo executive took a look at the way Tyson Foods designs its massive chicken processing facilities and realized the same principles could be applied to a data center. The building, which Yahoo describes as a giant air handler, features side-mounted louvers and a vented central hot aisle. The design is said to be so effective that it requires no chillers and only a minimal amount of water.

In hindsight, none of this should be surprising. As data center resources shift from on-premises cost centers to online commodities, success will go to those who can provide service at the lowest cost. And with governments around the world taking steps to increase consumption of renewable energy and shore up their power infrastructures, it only makes sense to draw down the consumption in one of the most high-energy industries in the world.

But I can’t help wondering where this trend will take us next. If cold and windy is what we need and geography is no longer a barrier, is anyone up for Antarctica?

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