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10 Most Incredible Data Centers on Earth

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High-speed Internet, reliability, security, creative cooling systems and energy consumption are all important considerations in the data center world. Still, some facilities go further than providing the essentials, and attract new clients through innovative and breathtaking design, incredible energy efficiency techniques, environmental sustainability and extreme, high-security locations. Featuring salt-water cooling, reverse osmosis, green roofs, disco lights and military-grade facilities… here are the 10 most incredible data centers on Earth.

10. Digital Beijing Building – Beijing, China

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China’s Digital Beijing Building rises out of the ground and resembles a giant circuit board or electronic barcode. As the name suggests, this architectural wonder is based in China’s capital city. It has 11 floors above ground and two below, and was built as the data center for 2008’s Beijing Olympic Games. It provided IT services, communication, and information security for the event. After the games were over, the building became a data storage and emergency response center for Beijing’s municipal government.

Looking like something from The Matrix, the building was designed by local architectural firm Studio Pei-Zhu. Special features include rainwater collection technology and an LED lighting scheme capable of cutting the building’s lighting energy consumption by 60 percent. The 2008 Olympic Games made heavy use of technology, so it stands to reason that the event’s data center would be housed in a building truly inspired by the digital age.

9. Très Grand Centre de Calcul – Bruyères-le-Châtel, France

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The Très Grand Centre de Calcul (TGCC) in Bruyères-le-Châtel, France is a mixture of alien beauty and raw power. The center houses CURIE, a supercomputer designed by French IT company Bull. Bull created CURIE for the French computing organization Grand Equipement National de Calcul Intensif (GENCI).

GENCI is a civil company dedicated to providing France with the highest levels of intensive computing for civil, fundamental and industrial research. CURIE has over 92,000 processing cores, a storage capacity of 15 petabytes (15,360 terabytes) and operates at speeds of 250 Gbits a second. In essence, that means the computer can read two billion books every second. Even more impressively, CURIE is capable of creating realistic, large-scale simulations for research purposes. Thanks to this massive, well-balanced computer, researchers expect to make major breakthroughs in fields as varied as Alzheimer’s research and the evolution of the universe.

8. Facebook – Oregon, USA

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Facebook’s Prineville, Oregon data center glows with austere blue lighting. The center opened in the spring of 2011 and strives to be energy-efficient, reducing its impact on the environment. In fact, the social network giant designed the data center with these goals specifically in mind. The building uses an innovative free-air cooling system – air flows freely into the facility via a grille located in the “penthouse” and is regulated by a series of louvers. The air can then either be cooled with the addition of pressurized water, or heated by mixing with air from the hot aisle. This system was designed to maximize “power usage effectiveness.” Condensation and rainwater are collected for the bathrooms and for irrigating the gardens. Facebook also uses Open Compute servers, which, according to facility manager Ken Pratchett, are 38 percent more efficient than other options on the market and cost less to boot.

7. Citi Data Centre – Frankfurt, Germany

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Reverse osmosis, fresh air “free cooling” and a vertical green wall combine to make Citigroup’s Citi Data Centre in Frankfurt, Germany a truly unique facility. If environmental sustainability is in vogue, then this building is the height of coolness. It was the brainchild of multinational design and engineering firm Arup and is the first data center in the world to achieve LEED Platinum certification (as well as the first German building to be LEED accredited). Naturally-lit office spaces and good ventilation make this a pleasant place to work. Vegetation covers 72 percent of the roof area, the planted areas are irrigated with recycled rainwater, and the building’s reverse osmosis system reduces water consumption by up to 40 percent. Thanks to innovative design, the Citi Data Centre’s total energy consumption was slashed by 72 percent.

6. Equinix SE3 Data Center – Seattle, USA

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Data center and Internet giant Equinix opened its SE3 data center in Seattle, Washington on March 14, 2013. The building – which used to be a garage – has room for over 1,000 cabinets capable of supporting 4.1 megawatts of IT technology. According to Equinix’s president of the Americas Charles Meyer, “It’s the most densely equipped, highly interconnected facility in the area.”

The facility serves as a nerve center for the Pacific Northwest and as a crucial link to the Asia-Pacific market. Based on pictures of the interior, little of the garage feel remains. In fact, it looks like a spacious and professional environment with a slight otherworldly aura. Microsoft, Amazon, T-Mobile and Blue Box all call Seattle home, which makes the city a true hub for cloud computing and e-commerce. Geographically, the SE3 data center couldn’t be better placed.

5. Google Data Center – Hamina, Finland

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Google is known for seriously awesome office spaces, but did you know the company also has innovative data centers? At the top of this article, you can see some vibrant pipes from Google’s Douglas County data center in Georgia, US. The color-coded pipes not only look cool, but enable employees to see what each one does at a glance.

Pictured above is Google’s data facility in Hamina, Finland, which was once an old paper mill. In 2009, Google acquired the building and converted it into an innovative data center cooled entirely by seawater, rather than drinking water. This is pumped from the Gulf of Finland into the building via a pre-existing tunnel and is used to cool the company’s servers. The Hamina facility is one of three data centers that Google operates in Europe (the other two are in Belgium and Ireland). Employees at the center have free access to a sauna and can also go ice fishing right outside the building.

4. Bahnhof Thule Data Center – Stockholm, Sweden

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Located in Stockholm, Sweden, Bahnhof’s Thule data center is as hip as it is techie. Designed by architect Albert France-Lanord (who also conceived of Bahnhof’s Pionen White Mountain center), the facility is set very near to Sweden’s finance and business area. Dry ice and neon lighting aren’t usual data center fare, but then again neither are disco lights and a licensed bar. Offerings of Bahnhof-brewed “No Latency” beer and an on-site nightclub reinforce the center’s funky atmosphere. The bar even features WikiLeaks’ original Dell PowerEdge server, which is now offline and converted into an ornamental piece.

The center is home to 240 rack cabinets, and has some brilliant green credentials too. The Thule center’s cooling system, which has a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.2, even provides heating to nearby residential and commercial premises.

3. Deltalis RadixCloud – Swiss Alps, Switzerland

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Situated deep in the Swiss Alps, the Deltalis RadixCloud data center is perhaps one of the most extremely located of its kind on Earth. It is housed in an ex-Swiss Air Force command and control center – which just makes it even cooler. The facility’s top-notch security and out-of-the-way location make the Deltalis RadixCloud data center an appealing option for clients wanting to house sensitive information in a secure environment.

The building’s energy efficiency is also a draw – as it is set in the Swiss Alps, it is perfectly situated to make the most of the cool surroundings. Glacial water and the naturally cold environment are used to cool its servers and therefore minimize costs, and the computer room is housed in three massive caverns that were carved out of the rock. Pressure doors, fire protection, alarm monitoring and multi-level security combine to make the Deltalis RadixCloud an extremely safe place to store important data.

2. Switch SuperNAP (NAP 7) – Las Vegas, USA

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SuperNAP (NAP 7) is a massive high-security data center in southeast Las Vegas and is operated by private tech company Switch, which describes itself as “the most reliable technology ecosystem in the world.” Located in the “safest desert on the planet,” the facility serves over 500 clients and is roughly the size of 11 football fields. Switch’s executive vice president of sales Missy Young says, “With our modular designs, massive campuses and highly available power, we are well situated in Las Vegas to continue to build the most advanced modular data center technology ecosystems for the most demanding clients.”

The center opened in 2008 and hosts one of cloud company Joyent’s eight US data location sites. Joyent CTO Jason Hoffman explains why: “There actually is not anything of comparison in the world… not even remotely close. They’re the only people who actually sat down in the last 20 years and thought what should a data center look like today, not in 1985.”

1. Bahnhof Pionen White Mountains Data Center – Stockholm, Sweden

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The Pionen White Mountains data center opened in 2008 and is another Bahnhof masterpiece. The facility was built in a Cold War-era bunker in Stockholm and is capable of withstanding a hydrogen bomb. Sitting beneath nearly 100 feet of rock, the cavern was little more than an empty, eerie cave before architect Albert France-Lanord and Internet service provider Bahnhof transformed it into what it is today. As a data center, the Pionen facility elegantly balances functionality, security and aesthetics. Waterfalls, simulated daylight and greenhouses make Pionen feel like a futuristic space station. Besides creating an amazing place to work, the design of the space draws media attention and captivates clients – and the fact that it hosted WikiLeaks’ servers in 2010 attracted a fair bit of scrutiny as well. “Security, power, cooling, network, etc., are all top notch,” says Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung. Still, it’s the facility’s resemblance to a James Bond villain’s lair that really makes it stand out.