Yahoo opens ‘chicken coop’ green data centre

Yahoo Inc. is opening a data centre in upstate New York that uses aradical new design to reduce energy costs by 40 percent, the company saidMonday.

The data centre in Lockport,near Niagara Falls,is cooled almost entirely by outside air that blows through the long data centrehalls to keep server equipment cool.

That means the data centre doesn’t need a chiller to providecold water for cooling, avoiding one of the most energy-intensive pieces ofequipment in a traditional data centre.

The IT gear will be run primarily by hydroelectric powerfrom the local utility, New York Power Authority. Yahoo says it’s the mosteco-friendly data centre it has built.

There are three data centre halls attached to a centraloperations centre, with two more halls being built. The halls are angled towardthe wind and are long and narrow to let air flow easily through them. They areshaped a bit like giant chicken coops, hence the name of the design: the YahooComputing Coop.

CEO Carol Bartz will open the data centre at aribbon-cutting ceremony Monday morning along with New York Governor DavidPatterson and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.

Their attendance shows how important data centres havebecome. The U.S. Department of Energy gave Yahoo a US$9.9 million grant towardthe cost of the facility. The DOE wants to encourage better energy practices indata centres, which account for a growing proportion of U.S. energy use — thefigure was 1.5 percent four years ago and has likely risen since then.

“For the past 60 years data centres were always thisniche area that didn’t evolve very much, they were pretty expensive and slow tobuild. This represents a major shift of turning the data centre into a highlyefficient data factory,” said Scott Noteboom, Yahoo’s vice president fordata centre engineering and operations

Yahoo is also opening an operations centre in New York state and saysit will create 125 full-time jobs.

Despite the reduced environmental impact, Yahoo’s motivesaren’t all altruistic. By building a data centre that uses only 10 percent ofits power for cooling — versus half in some other data centres — Yahoo canslash its electricity bills dramatically.

It also steps up the competition with Google and Microsoft,which have been trying to outdo each other with more efficient designs. Yahoosaid its data centre has a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) of 1.08, compared toa national average of about 1.9.

The PUE shows how much of the total energy to the facilitygoes directly to the IT equipment, versus other uses like cooling. A PUE of 2.0means only half of the energy is powering the IT gear, and a PUE of 1.0 wouldmean all of it is.

The design is similar to one that Hewlett-Packard startedbuilding recently for large customers. Yahoo has applied for patents for itsdesign, related to the layout and how air is circulated in the halls.”There’s a lot of people chasing patents” in data centre design,Noteboom said.

Facilities like HP’s and Yahoo”s are faster to build thantraditional data centres. They’re built from factory-made parts that areassembled on site. Yahoo expects to complete two additional halls at the Lockport facility in sixmonths, compared to 12 to 18 months for a traditional data centre, Noteboomsaid.

The total floor space of the data center will be 155,000 square feet. It currently houses about 50,000 servers, and the site could eventually support up to 100,000 servers, Yahoo said.

The data centre will run Yahoo services like Mail, Messengerand Flickr.

The facility cost less to build than a traditional data centre,said Christina Page [cq,] director of Yahoo’s energy and climate strategy.”There’s an assumption that green costs more to build, but a lot of thoseassumptions aren’t always correct,” she said.

The servers inside are “off the shelf” products housed instandard racks, but Yahoo is also experimenting with its own server designs. Ondays when the weather is too hot for fresh-air cooling, the data centre willuse an evaporative cooling system. “We can use fresh air the vast majorityof the year,” Noteboom said.

Yahoo wouldn’t say how much it is paying for the hydro powerbut Page said it’s wrong to assume that renewable energy always cost more thanpower from coal-fired plants.

The design allows the temperature and airflow inside to beclosely controlled, like a data centre in a shipping container but on a largerscale. “To me the Yahoo Computing Coop is just a bigger container,”Noteboom said.

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