ITBusinessEdge: Pushing Hyperscale to the Extreme

By Arthur Cole

Hyperscale data centers are pushing a number of extremes, but not all of them are related to sheer size.

Increasingly, centers are going up in remote places where cool climates and an abundance of renewable energy prevail, or in highly dense urban areas where data proximity is highly valued. And there is even a push for modular hyperscale facilities that can be activated in short notice and at relatively low cost.

Probably the most remote hyperscale center announced to date is the one planned for the tiny town of Ballangen, Norway, which lies about 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle. The Kolos facility, the brainchild of a U.S-Norwegian partnership of the same name, is expected to top 6.46 million square feet and support up to 1,000 MW of computing power. This would just edge past the Range International Data Hub in Langfang, China, the current largest operating data facility. The Kolos center will utilize all renewable power, drawn mainly from hydro-electric and wind sources, and is even sheltered by water and rolling hills to provide a steady source of free cooling and protection from physical damage.

Meanwhile, the drive to immerse data centers completely in water continues, with Microsoft claiming enough success in a 105-day experiment earlier this year to begin plans for a permanent deployment in the near future. Sustainable Business Forum reports that the design can reduce energy overhead to just 3 percent, which exceeds any other approach, including free-air cooling. As well, by placing a center just off-shore, data systems will be able to tap the kinetic energy of ocean waves, reducing demand on the local energy grid. On the downside, however, are the added maintenance costs related to protecting the center from corrosive sea water, and the upfront costs of constructing buildings at scale in such a difficult environment.

But even as Microsoft wades into esoteric data solutions, it is also pursuing more traditional approaches. The company is said to be the anchor tenant at a 460,000 square foot facility outside of Washington, D.C., which is seeing explosive demand for infrastructure now that many federal agencies are tasked with lowering their IT costs. The new MCC1 center developed by CloudHQ is rated up to 45 MW, with 35 MW earmarked for a single tenant. The company is shooting for a PUE rating of less than 1.2, which would make it highly efficient, with a parallel power design that enables power-sharing across multiple tenants while preserving high isolation from faults. It also features a dedicated fiber link to CloudHQ’s central hub in nearby Ashburn, Virginia.

And for those who need hyperscale right away, data center provider Switch has released its pre-fab models that measure up to 250 feet wide. The Modularly Optimized Design (MOD) facilities are built around the company’s Tier 5 spec, which the company says provides higher reliability than the Uptime Institute’s Tier IV designation through the use of double storm-proof roofs and other advancements, and can be built at less cost than even the institute’s lower level Tier II and Tier II centers. The design, in fact, is based on Switch’s own data hub in Nevada, which tops 1.3 million square feet at the moment but is expected to exceed 7 million square feet upon completion, with a total capacity of 650 MW.

The rise of hyperscale data centers is fueled not only by economic pressures and the desire to achieve economies of scale, but the physical realities of an increasingly distributed IT environment. As edge processing becomes more prevalent, a fair amount of data still must be forwarded to centralized compute infrastructure and then back to the edge where it can inform the user device.

By building or leasing hyperscale resources in both populated and remote areas, the enterprise gains the ability to match resources to data needs according to a wide range of requirements, such as relevancy, locality and response times.

In this way, organizations can drive digital services to the literal four corners of the world.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia.