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Low-energy server hosting goes underground

Smartbunker digs deep for zero-carbon data centre

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Centrinet is claiming zero-carbon energy emissions and military-grade security for its Smartbunker underground managed hosting service.

Built in what was a NATO command centre, 100 metres below the wilds of Lincolnshire, England, Smartbunker runs on wind and water-power and uses power-efficient kit such as IBM bladeservers - there's none of that dodgy carbon-offset going on here, or so the company claims.

The power - from renewable energy supplier Ecotricity - carries a "double-digit percentage price premium", said Smartbunker MD Kelly Smith, but he claimed that the company's been able to compensate for that through efficient data centre design.

"One of the big advantages we have is we've built this from scratch," he said. That means the data centre's got the power and cooling to run high-density gear - in particular, he says that the bladeservers running the hosting service are 60 percent more power-efficient than equivalent 1U servers, because they share otherwise-wasteful components such as power supplies.

"With 1U servers we could get 42 processors in a rack, but that would take 18kW, versus 5kW or 6kW for 42 processors in blade servers," he claimed. "And of course, efficient servers mean less cooling cost."

He added, "The environmental aspect is only one of three things we need to have, though. It's nice to have, but we still have to provide good service and support - we're providing a mid-market service on resilient bladeservers, not an entry-level one on pizza-boxes - and we have to have the security side."

The latter comes courtesy of NATO and the MoD - the 30,000 sq.ft (3,000 sq.m) bunker was originally built (dug?) as a radar station and then refitted in the 1980s for NATO use. So not only does it have great views over the Lincolnshire coast at surface level, but all the comms ducting was already in place below ground when Centrinet bought it in 2003.

"It was all copper though," Smith said. "The biggest investment in this came from BT, which had to dig up 11km of road to get the fibre in. Now we have a triple high-resilience network, with dual SDH rings.

"We started up Centrinet to do remote management of data centres from our NOC in Lincoln, but it was also a mission of ours to have our own data centre," he continued. He said that, while they were aware of ex-military bunkers coming onto the market, it was just good luck that one came up for sale in the same county - even if it did take three years and several £100,000s to refurbish.

Smith claimed that the whole of Centrinet now has a zero-carbon footprint, including its NOC and its co-location facility which also lives in the bunker, and has been running there since last year.

"There's a lot of 'greenwash' about," he said, "but frankly, if you're building a data centre today you have to take energy into account - you'd be mad not to. Energy is becoming the biggest operational cost in data centres.

"Companies realise they have to do something, but not all have the opportunity or luxury we had to start from scratch. And when it comes down to it, the environment is important not just because you think it is, but because your customers think it is."®

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