Compute and Storage Infrastructure Built for Uptime: Any Building Starts with the Foundation
In an always-on technological world, one vital component for success is a data center with reliable uptime. Finding a facility that delivers robust and uninterrupted availability can be a challenge, but knowing exactly what characteristics to look for is the key to locating an ideal data center.
The most important attribute of a data center is uptime. Merriam-Webster defines uptime as “time during which a piece of equipment (i.e. a computer) is functioning or able to function.” Alternatively, downtime is the time when equipment is non-functioning or unable to function. Downtime is costly to a company’s bottom-line and reputation. In fact, nine seconds of “lights out” can easily translate to 24 to 48 hours of downtime by the time operating and database systems are fully restored.
In the face of this harsh reality, customers should look to follow best practices: finding the best geographic location(s) for their computing infrastructure and looking for design and operational performance parameters like those set by the Uptime Institute (Tier Classification System). These parameters help guide customers, aiding in the decision process by locating providers that offer superior benefits such as power, cooling, system maintenance and fault tolerances. More may be required to support uptime, however, as recently acknowledged in a new study titled, “A mission-critical industry unprepared for climate change,” many data centers have yet to prepare their facilities for the effects of climate change.
Like the theory proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” computing infrastructure, like a human being, also has its own hierarchy of needs: location, power and cooling. To ensure uptime, this computing “hierarchy of needs” must be reevaluated as the surrounding environment adjusts to a changing climate. A closer look at each of these ordered factors will help shed light on what should be considered.
1. A Safe Location
When looking to ensure uptime, one of the first considerations should be location, or more specifically, a safe location. What natural disasters potentially threaten corporate operations that don’t also threaten IT operations? This can be a big question for those that have moved to the cloud; where is the cloud physically located? Addressing these questions could translate to seeking out a site within a different geographic region or at a certain distance from recognized potential disasters. Regardless of the criteria, underground data centers offer a unique set of safety benefits and should be considered.
Being an underground data center in solid limestone 85 feet below the surface provides businesses control over the impacts of events like hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, and tornadoes. These benefits are easily recognized by those who have experienced the recent wildfires in California, Midwest flooding, or even the polar vortex in parts of Missouri, where winds reached 70 mph. Although extreme weather events like these may impact above ground data centers, they present no impact on operational facilities like the Bluebird Underground Data Center. While businesses demand stability and reliability, weather related events are uncontrollable. They can be mitigated, however, by selecting a safe location. An underground data center model offers unparalleled risk mitigation.
2. Everything in a Data Center Uses Power
Another critical consideration regarding uptime is the availability of power and its reliability. Confirming that a data center has adequate power sources, and that those power sources are designed and operated in a protected sequence, is essential for reliable business operations. The ability to effectively mitigate this risk increases proportionately with the available substation capacity, the number of utility feeds, and the dedicated on-site generating resources available.
The primary utility services delivered to an underground facility are less impacted by weather events such as downed poles, lightning strikes or direct contact with the elements. Underground power densities, configuration, and local distribution are easily expanded, making subterranean builds an attractive option for hosting providers and growing enterprise operations.
When electric utilities cut power to areas under mandatory evacuation during Hurricane Sandy, critical power and cooling systems were powered by generators for extended periods of time. Some operators were forced to manually transport fuel up flights of stairs to their exposed roof-mounted generators due to on-site pumping systems being without power. Bluebird Underground’s on-site generating resources are located underground, which is not universal among all underground facilities. Being underground ensures on-site generating resources are shielded by the same natural protection afforded to customer operations.
3. Anything that Uses Power and Produces Heat Needs Cooling
At Bluebird Underground, the year-round average temperature is 59.6 Fahrenheit/15.33 Celsius. By avoiding temperature extremes that above ground mechanical cooling systems normally experience in winter versus summer, the underground mechanical cooling system operates in a much smaller range, ensuring operational efficiency. Additionally, the naturally cool environment helps customers to realize more efficient operations for their server hardware, thus lower operating costs and providing year-round savings.
In a study polling over 400 enterprise data center managers, the IDC found that power and cooling costs can traditionally take up nearly 25 percent of a data center budget. These costs will be further stretched by the adoption of high-performance computing such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), which are driving larger operations to technologies like liquid cooling. Having a consistently low baseline temperature reduces the run time for chillers and lowers the impact on the climate. In locations such as mines, the rock acts as a heat sink, absorbing up to 1.5 BTUs per square foot. From a climate change perspective, an underground data center makes sense.
Final Thoughts on the Value of an Underground Facility
Bluebird Underground is one of only a very small number of underground facilities taking advantage of this natural protection, which is surprising when considering the benefits, assurance, and reliability these locations inherently offer. For every computing infrastructure reason listed, the consistency of an underground environment is far better able to provide peace of mind. Customers can be confident in the knowledge that their hardware investments, business data, and operations are secure and insulated against the threats stemming from mother nature, climate change, and mankind.
Having a better structural model in an ideal location is fundamental to uptime. The ability to deliver optimal power and cooling in this already stable natural subterranean environment offers reliability and can potentially save business IT operations money.
Finally, and most importantly, identifying the optimal data center partner with industry expertise ensures that the right measures are taken to protect critical business assets.