Originally posted on Silverlinings

  • Underground data centers do exist today and are primarily housed in mines
  • These facilities boast constant temperature and humidity as well as increased security and resilience, executives from LightEdge and Bluebird Network told Silverlinings
  • The downside is there aren’t enough suitable mines available for the design to go mainstream

It is a truth universally acknowledged that data centers are ugly. Really, truly hideous structures. This is the case despite efforts by local officials to regulate data center aesthetics. As campuses proliferate and grow in size to meet rising demand for compute, these architectural monstrosities are taking up more and more land. But does it really have to be this way? Joe Reele, VP of Solution Architects at Schneider Electric, doesn’t think so.

“We need to significantly change the way we build data centers,” he told Silverlinings. Schneider Electric is a global specialist in power, cooling and software for data centers.

Reele’s argument on this front is primarily an environmental one. He noted, for instance, that greenspace is finite and rather than building data centers on top of what is left, perhaps we should start looking at options to go below the surface.

This, he said, would not only allow the land above to remain arable and eliminate aesthetic concerns but also provide more construction space and security for data centers. Plus, he said, heat generated by the data centers below ground could easily be captured and reused in above ground facilities.

Thus, our epic adventure into the deep began.

What’s out there

While this might sound far-fetched at first, underground data centers already exist. By and large, today’s underground data centers are built in unused parts of mines, some of which remain active.

For instance, Iron Mountain has one in Pennsylvania outside Pittsburgh in the U.S. and Bluebird Network has one in Missouri. The former is 220 feet underground and uses 35-acre aquifer as a natural geothermal cooling source. The latter is housed 85-feet below the surface with a limestone surround that – along with redundant cooling and chilled water systems help keep the data center at an ambient temperature of between 64- and 68-degrees Fahrenheit.

LightEdge has one 125-feet below ground in Kansas, which it acquired when it bought Cavern Technologies in 2021. Elsewhere, the sprawling six-level Lefdal data center sits in an abandoned mine in Norway.

Lest you think otherwise, these are all full-sized data centers. The one in Kansas, for instance, is 102,000 square feet, while Iron Mountain’s is a sprawling 330,000 square feet.

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