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Cool-environment data centers illustrates benefits of OCP

More large data centers are being built in cold climates.

As enterprises amass increasingly complex arrays of cloud storage hardware, they have often struggled to keep server rooms cool in an energy-efficient way. Rather than dedicate enormous amounts of power to room-wide air conditioning, companies may be better served by building and procuring Open Compute Project appliances, which are streamlined and highly operable in cold environments.

Seeking cool locations to house data centers, several technology giants have set up shop in places like Iceland and Sweden. According to Network Computing's Tony Kontzer, Microsoft plans to build a $250 million data center in Finland, and Facebook already has a sizable facility in Luleå, Sweden. The natural air in these locales can cool servers at a much lower cost than air conditioning.

"The challenge of cooling modern data centers has been likened to using a room full of air conditioners to cool a room full of fan heaters," 451 Research analyst Andrew Donohoe wrote in a recent report. "It is difficult, expensive and inefficient. Data centers that use outside air or other emerging cooling technologies promise to be cheaper, more efficient and more sustainable than traditional, mechanically cooled facilities."

As an added benefit, these data centers can take advantage of low-cost renewable energy and mature fiber-optics networks. In his examination of Facebook's outpost in Sweden, Computing contributor Graeme Burton pointed out that the facility uses energy from nearby hydro-power plants to power cloud infrastructure that generates over 10 petabytes of data each day.

Since the Luleå data center is entirely based on OCP hardware, it has extra amenities for cooling and power efficiency. In addition to open air ventilation, the OCP infrastructure also features appliances with a simple, bare-bones design that allows for maximum airflow. Facebook's Niall McEntegar​t explained that OCP data centers may lose only 8 percent of power input, compared to up to 27 percent for traditional counterparts.