The Data Centre Arms Race

The final part of this trilogy looking into the growth of data centre facilities around the world focuses on the existing power house of data centre construction, North America, in particular the US, and the emerging contenders within Asia.

US

There are currently thought to be five centres that are as large or larger than that in Newport, Wales and four of them are to be found in the US. The smallest of these is the NAP of the Americas data centre, located within the urban sprawl of Miami in Florida. Matching the Newport facility for floor space at 750,000 square feet, it is not only a key installation for both the US military and global DNS infrastructure, but is a vital hub for IT Operations in the south east of the US and Latin America beyond.

The next up the chain is the home of Twitter’s servers amongst others – the QTS Metro Data Centre in Atlanta Georgia – with a square footage of 990,000. The building which originated as a Sears distribution centre and, like many of the other contenders, was repurposed into a data centre, now houses its own substation to support its vast power consumption.

The single largest data centre building in the world is the Lakeside Technology Center. The only centre over one million square feet at 1.1m, it can be found in another re-purposed ex-Sears building, this time in Chicago (a city also home to Microsoft’s largest facility at 700k sq.ft). The size of this facility can be illustrated by the fact that, within the Chicago area, the it consumes more power than any other facility excluding the city’s airport, being fed with 100MW of energy. This consumption is tempered however by the innovative use of a shared 8.5million gallon reservoir of chilled brine. In common with most of those reported here the facility is multi-tenant, offering colocation and business hosting to an array of clients. It is housed within a building, complete with gothic architecture, that Sears once used for its printing presses.

Although not a single building the US’s largest data centre complex can be found in Las Vegas, Nevada with the expansion of the SuperNap 7 facility. The project currently has over 2m square feet of floor space and continues to grow. In total, this behemoth requires an energy capacity of a whopping 500 MVA.

Asia

If you were to believe the headline figures, Hebei Province in China is home to a data centre which would blow all of the world’s other largest facilities out of the water. The centre being built as a cloud computing city by American IT firm IBM in conjunction with Chinese company Range, claims to have a gigantic 6.2 million square feet of floor space; nearly six times the Lakeside facility in the US. However, in actuality a large proportion of this space will be used for other purposes, such as office space, and the true footage of the data centre itself is considered to be in the region of 300,000 to 650,000.

Instead the largest data centre on the continent is considered to be the Tulip Data City facility in Bangalore, India with a floor space of around 900,000 square feet. In common with the Hebei Province centre above it has been built with IBM and also offers 80,000 of office space for customers. Although, due to its scale, it consumers 40 MVA of electricity, it can still classify itself as being a green facility as, at 1.9 PUE, it sneaks under the industry standard of 2.0 PUE.

As mentioned previously the challenge facing the data centre industry is to build big and to build green. Cloud computing and other new technologies are creating the demand for extra data centre capacity but this capacity can only be achieved in a sustainable and cost effective manner by finding smarter ways to manage the environments, primarily the temperatures, in which servers run to reduce their vast power consumption. However, with innovation such as the use of hot and cold aisles, thermal energy stores and the use of environmental resources, including external air and water, companies are opening up the possibilities for larger scale green data centre development.