When we think of data centers, we tend to think of large, open rooms full of featureless racks. But many data centers break the mold and utilize truly creative designs, layouts, and locations.
These unusual data centers are not vanity projects, but creative responses to some of the challenges that technology has presented.
As concerns about information security and continuity grow, businesses need data centers to be increasingly resilient against physical attacks and natural disasters. That has led to some data centers being housed in unusual locations, making the best use of the natural environment to shore up their security.
In Norway, the Green Mountain data center is located in a disused ammo store on an island, embedded into the rock of the mountain. In the Netherlands, the CyberBunker is located in an ex-nuclear bunker, giving customers similar security to that enjoyed by its previous owners, NATO.
There’s another good reason to use natural resources creatively in data center construction. Green power, and inventive use of water and air, all help to cut energy use. In 2014, the data centers in the United States used around 2% of the country’s power, making data centers one of the world’s biggest drains on the grid. To reduce this, data center developers are starting to work with nature, not against it.
For example, cool water from natural sources can be used in place of air conditioning. It can be transported using gravity, rather than electric pumps. The water can then be used to cool equipment or used in place of traditional air conditioning. Elements of these technologies are used in Roubaix in France.
Water can also be used to generate power for data centers, as is the case with Yahoo’s Computing Coops in New York. The electricity that powers its servers is generated by nearby Niagara Falls.
In Germany, Cloud&Heat recycles the heat generated by servers to warm both air and water in neighboring buildings. This technology offers a glimpse into an interesting solution where the heat generated by a data center is put to use to save power elsewhere.

The World’s Most Creative (and Bizarre) Data centers
As data privacy becomes increasingly important, data centers are being placed in incredibly unique locations in order to make them as secure, energy efficient, and effective as possible. Here are some of the world’s most unusual data centers:
The Former NATO Ammunition Storehouse
Green Mountain – DC1-Stavanger – Norway
It has 146,389 square feet (13,600 m²) of available spaceThis high-security data center has been converted out of a former NATO ammunition storehouse, which is located on a small island in NorwayThere are two main buildings that are built from concrete and are three stories high — both of these are built into the mountainA cooling source is provided by a nearby fjord, where, at a depth of 75 m and below, the water remains at a stable 46°F(8°C)The system takes water from a depth of 100 m to water basins at 5 mThis is done without any outside power, using only the gravity-produced pressure differenceThis cool water is then pumped from the basins to the heat exchangersThis allows the data center to use just 3.5 kW of power for the pumps for every 1,000 kW of coolingAs the facility is airtightThe atmosphere is 21% oxygenSustained fires require an oxygen level of 16% or higherAs a result, the facility is kept at an oxygen level of 15%This effectively eliminates the potential for fire.It also removes the risk of corrosion damage from fire suppressing chemicalsDue to the fact the data center is covered by 100 m of granite, it is secure from electromagnetic pulses (EMP), which can destroy or disrupt electronic equipmentThe Data Center Without Air Conditioning
OVH – Roubaix 4 – France
The building has capacity for 35,000 serversIt provides up to 10 Gbps per serverRoubaix use no traditional air conditioningThis is accomplished in two ways:First, the data center is built in a specific wayIt is a cube with a hollow coreThis provides greatly increased ventilation, keeping to entire building coolSecond, the servers themselves are water-cooled with OVH’s own system.Since air conditioning is one of the biggest uses of energy in data center, Roubaix’s special design reduces energy cost by half while still providing optimal performanceThese innovations have been developed in-houseCombined with OVH’s total control over all aspects of the data center and servers, allows them to provide real-time solutions to any potential problemsThe Chicken Coop with a Living Wall
Yahoo! – Computing Coops – New York
Yahoo! First established their “chicken coop” idea for a data center in 2010 before building their second in 2016Each building is 120 x 60 footTo reduce the costs involved in cooling a data center, Yahoo! adopted the style of a chicken coopUsing the same thin, long designs of these types of buildings, they also have chimneys (vents) on the top which are used to circulate the air to keep the servers coolThis provides natural cooling 99% of the timeThe other 1% of the time uses a direct evaporative cooling systemUsed when the weather’s humid or hotHydroelectric power is used to run the facilityThis is sourced from Niagara Falls, which is located near to the siteOverall, the data centers aim to use 95% less water and 40% less electricity than standard data centers of the same sizeTo put this into perspective, for a year’s worth of savings:300,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs could be lit up by this for a year200,000 people could be provided with drinking water for a yearYahoo has continued to expand on the success of their chicken coop design, and has even incorporated a living wall into the latest one
Located outside the data center, the wall has been created to welcome visitors and staff into the buildingIt also adds a bold message about Yahoo!’s commitment to being as eco-friendly as possibleNine varieties of sedum have been used to create the design, providing four seasons of texture, color, and interestThe Nuclear Bunker
CyberBunker – The Netherlands
It was originally built in 1955 during the Cold War to house sensitive electronic equipment and was designed to operate efficiently for 10 years, even if it was cut off from the outside worldIn 1996, it was decommissioned and a Dutch entrepreneur purchased it before renovating it into the data center it is todayLocated in a decommissioned NATO nuclear bunker that’s above ground, the CyberBunker is a data center that’s proven to be impenetrable in many waysDespite a number disputes (due to some of the controversial customers the CyberBunker serves) and several attempts to forcibly enter the bunker, the police and authorities have been unsuccessful at gaining access to the data centerAnd each time CyberBunker has been taken to a court of law, it has come out victoriousFor example, the Goes City Hall accused CyberBunker of operating an electric motor that could draw more than 1.5kW without having obtained a permitCyberBunker won the case and City Hall had to pay their court chargesThen, in 2007, after trying to gain forceful entry (unsuccessfully) into the CyberBunker, City Hall ended up paying out €24,500 in damages after no illegal activities were discoveredSince then, City Hall has ceased its efforts to try and get CyberBunker shut downThe Data Center that Doubles as a Radiator
Cloud&Heat – Germany
This is a unique data center because of its usageCloud&Heat has redesigned the traditional data center to create a cabinet that reduces cooling costs in two ways:First, its cooling system is efficient and uses less energySecond, it reuses the heat it producesThe heat generated by the servers can be used to heat air and water in commercial and personal buildingsAnd, the workloads can be assigned to the location that needs the most energyFor example, if it was colder in Bonn than Stuttgart, systems in Bonn would receive a higher workload to generate much-needed heat in these premisesEven though this is only available in Germany, at present, it does provide a lot of scope for the future with the possibility of entire homes being heated by server-style radiators!The Raspberry Pi Data Center
PCextreme – The Netherlands
PCextreme isn’t unique so much in what it is but in the technology that it supportsAlongside their standard data centers, PCextrme offers colocation of Raspberry Pi systemsThese have been designed to accommodate roughly 150 Raspberry Pis per rackCompared to midrange servers which use around 75-150 watts, these use 3-5 watts, making them much more efficient than using servers where “full” computers aren’t requiredThe Largest, Most Advanced Data Center
Switch – Tahoe Reno – Nevada
Designed to offer data center space of up to 7.2 million square feet (670,000 m2), with up to 650MW of powerSituated on 2,000 acres, this data center is powered solely by renewable energyThe roof decks have been designed to withstand winds of up to 200 mphThe first building (Tahoe Reno 1) offers data center space which spans over 1.3 million square feet (120,000 m2), which makes it the largest single data space in the worldThis is the first two of 12 sectors that are planned at the centerSome of the clients who are using this facility include Renown Health and eBayThe data centers are connected to the SUPERLOOP, which is operated by SwitchThis is a fiber optic network that runs 500 miles, connecting the data center with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the company’s other data center in Las Vegas, which is 2.5 million square feet (230,000 m2)This provides very low latencies:Los Angeles: 9-millisecondsSan Francisco: 4-millisecondsLas Vegas: 7-millisecondsIn the last two years, 90% of the world’s data was created, which demonstrates just how fast the Internet is growing. With a need to store all of this data somewhere, who knows what innovative places the next data centers will be established in!
Source: Claire Broadley for WIHT