The World’s Most Unusual Data Centers


Whether you’re on a PC, tablet, or smartphone, chances are you rely on a series of data centers to access the websites, email, and applications you use every day. Most people spend more time researching their hosting provider than they do thinking about the tech that drives it, so it’s easy to take these hubs of connectivity and commerce for granted. But hidden among more than half a million data centers are some truly innovative and intriguing marvels of technology.

In the craggy mountains of Sweden, hosting provider Bahnhof gave new life to a former military bunker in 2007, transforming it into a data center straight out of an Ian Fleming novel. Anyone passing through the reinforced doors of this “nuke-proof” hosting provider will find themselves beneath almost 100 feet of solid rock, surrounded by retro-futuristic flourishes like underground waterfalls, simulated daylight, and a backup system powered by old submarine engines. Steeped in high-tech mystique, Bahnof was a natural choice to host several servers for the controversial information clearinghouse Wikileaks.

Of course, not everyone wants or needs a data center that’s embedded in the bowels of a mountain range. For those who require greater flexibility, Elliptical Mobile Solutions (EMS) provides fully-contained, ultra-portable data centers that can be set up just about anywhere there’s room for a standard shipping container. Armored, energy efficient, and boasting plenty of power, these mobile marvels are ideal for military applications and tackling disaster recovery. And EMS isn’t limiting its ambitions to terrestrial concerns; the company has partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to produce portable data centers that will help drive commercial space travel.

No matter how energy efficient or portable some might be, data centers as a whole continue to use a lot of energy and other resources—and in some cases, up to 90% of the energy used goes to waste. But that’s not the case in Frankfurt, Germany, where the Citi Data Center is an exemplary model of environmentally responsible computing. Swathed in green and incorporating water recovery, passive cooling, and recycled materials, this award-winning data center has reduced total water use by 30%, and total energy costs for the infrastructure by a staggering 72%.

Global demand for connectivity is skyrocketing, and the challenges of meeting that demand require inspired data center design. As technology advances and energy needs grow, data centers around the world will look to exceptional exemplars like Bahnhof, EMS, and Citi Data Center for high-tech, secure, and eco-friendly inspiration.

The World's Most Unusual Data Centers

The World’s Most Unusual Data Centers

With more than 500,000 data centers in the world powered by some of our most innovative companies, there’s bound to be some pretty interesting data centers out there. Let’s look at the nine most unique and unusual data centers spread across the globe.

The Most Stylish Data Center

Bahnhof, one of Sweden’s most popular web hosts, has a data center located in an abandoned nuclear bunker designed to withstand a near-direct nuclear strike.

The bunker, code named Pionen White Mountains during its military days, rests below nearly 100 feet of solid rock.

Converted in 2007-2008, the underground data center is fit for a spy with simulated daylight, greenhouses, waterfalls, and German submarine engines.

It’s sealed off from the world by entrance doors almost 16 inches thick.

The backup system is powered by old submarine engines and has an alarm klaxon from the same source.

Fittingly, the facility has hosted a few servers for Wikileaks, an international, online, non-profit organization that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources.

The design was inspired by old science fiction movies from the 70s such as Logan’s Run, Silent Running, and Star Wars, as well as James Bond movies.

It’s not the only nuke-proof data center in the world. In the Netherlands, Cyberbunker turned a bunker into a data center and hosted servers for The Pirate Bay at one point in time.

Iron Mountain also has an underground “nuke proof” data bunker in western Pennsylvania with its own restaurant, fire trucks, water treatment plant, and power infrastructure.

The Portable Data Center

Elliptical Mobile Solutions (EMS) develops portable data centers that can be set up anywhere and moved with ease.

Portable containerized data centers feature a variety of data center technologies pre-configured in standard 20 or 40-foot shipping containers similar to those used to ship products on ships or by rail.

Portable data centers are used in military and disaster recovery situations and are extremely efficient in terms of power use.

Every unit from Elliptical comes with a full rack of space, built-in cooling systems, and various armour types to protect against physical attack.

The company even offers a self-propelled unit that’s the size of a household fridge.

In 2012, EMS partnered with Nor-Tech to develop the R.A.S.E.R. HD Micro-Modular Data Center for the Federal Aviation Administration as a secure, high-performance computing system to be used for conducting sensitive research into the safety of space tourism.

Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, SGI, IBM, Dell, Liebert, Oracle-Sun, and Bull also make portable or “containerized” data centers.

The Floating Data Center

HavenCo had a datacenter on the micronation of Sealand, a WW2 anti-aircraft platform in the English Channel, located about 7 miles off the coast of England in international water.

Sealand is the smallest country in international waters with the national motto is “From the Sea, Freedom.”

It was the world’s first truly offshore, almost-anything-goes electronic data haven.

HavenCo could host content considered illegal by other hosting companies because of its location.

Child porn, spamming, and malicious hacking were not allowed – pretty much everything else was.

The machine rooms required scuba gear for entry because they were filled with unbreathable pure nitrogen atmosphere instead of the normal oxygen mix — a measure designed to keep out sneaks, inhibit rust, and reduce the risk of fire.

Companies could set up their systems on Sealand virtually within an hour, according to Wired.

Although HavenCo ceased operation in 2008, the company gained significant mainstream media attention, including a cover article in Wired Magazine

The Frugal Data Center

Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) innovative data center in Wynyard, England is powered using cool fresh outside air from the North Sea rather than refrigeration to keep servers cool.

Outside temperature only rises above 24 degrees C (75 degrees F) for about 20 hours a year.

Although many large data centers are now using free cooling, the HP facility features an innovative airflow scheme that uses the entire lower floor of the facility as a cooling plenum.

The facility features a lower chamber that functions as a 15-foot high raised floor, or plenum, where air is prepared for introduction into the IT equipment area.

  • When the outside air entering the facility is colder than needed, it’s mixed with the warm air generated by the IT equipment and recirculated from the upper floor into the lower chamber.

The cooling techniques used in the Wynyard site help HP cut the building’s CO2 emissions by 12,500 metric tons and reduce energy consumption by 25,000 megawatt hours per year.

The Green Data Center… Literally

Citi Data Center in Frankfurt, Germany was the first data center earned the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest rating.

The 230,000 square foot facility uses fresh air free cooling about 65% of the year.

Reverse osmosis water treatment is used to reduce sediment buildup in cooling towers and is expected to save 50 million liters per water per year.

The facility uses water-efficient fixtures to reduced potable water use by 41% and uses harvested rainwater for all its irrigation needs.

A vegetated green roof comprises 72% of the total roof area.

A vertical green wall is covered with vegetation and is irrigated with harvested rainwater.

100% of the construction waste was diverted from the landfill and operational waste is segregated for recycling.

Recycled materials were used in 27% of the materials specified with local sourcing of materials exceeding 40%.

The Heavenly Data Center

The Barcelona Supercomputer center (BSC) is situated on the grounds of a former 1920s Christian chapel in Spain and is considered one of the most beautiful data centers in the world.

The BSC or Centro Nacional de Supercomputación is a publicly funded research center that hosts the MareNostrum, Europe’s 8th most powerful supercomputer.

From the outside, the building looks like a regular Spanish Chapel, but inside, the MareNostrum is housed inside a giant glass box.

The MareNostrum uses more than 10,000 processors to perform 94 trillion operations per second.

The Historic Landmark Data Center

The Lakeside Technology Center in Chicago is a registered historic landmark, originally constructed between 1912 and 1914.

It was converted into space for telecom companies around the turn of the century and houses multiple data centers.

It is considered one of the world’s largest carrier hotels and has more power capacity than Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

It uses an 8.5 million gallon tank for thermal storage.

Originally designed and built for the RR Donnelley Printing company, it is now owned by Digital Realty Trust.

The strong floors that once held up printing presses now support rows of switches, routers, storage systems, and standby power generators.

The Futuristic Data Center

Online auction site and marketplace, eBay wanted something different than the standard boring box-shaped building with its Project Mercury Data Center built in 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.

In an unusual move, eBay had issued a public request for proposals and invited outside firms to submit designs.

The center takes its design cues from the movie Tron: Legacy.

During the grand opening, eBay showed a video of staffers dressed in Tron outfits using glowing discs and light sabers to fend off a denial of service attack.

The facility features standardized hardware, apps, and processes so additional resources can easily be added as needed.

Much of the center’s processing capacity comes from containerized servers on the roof.

The Data Center Inside a Mountain

The Mountain Complex and Data Center offers 3 million square feet of space in the Ozark mountains just outside Branson, Missouri situated more than 100 feet above the top of the Table Rock Dam.

The former mine offers an additional 75 acres of undeveloped space inside the mountain.

The facility’s owners say the site is “nearly impervious” to catastrophes.

Tornadoes blow over the site, floodwaters can’t reach it, and a “direct attack could not substantially harm The Mountain.”


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One Comment to “The World’s Most Unusual Data Centers”

  1. Interesting article 🙂 For me data is data and would rather have databases spread around the world, along with back-ups, so I wouldn’t pay extra just to know it’s sitting someone in a nuclear bunker 😀

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