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Iron Mountain Using Underground Caves for Cooling

IT experts have been struggling with the task of cooling storage servers and other hardware ever since the dawn of the computer age. The industry has certainly come a long way from the days of industrial air conditioning units, and there's been some really innovative techniques seen when it comes to system cooling. However, most experts have never seen a cooling system like the one used by Iron Mountain at their National Data Center in western Pennsylvania, which operates all of their hardware in an underground mine.

Underground Data Storage

Iron Mountain's Pennsylvania-based National Data Center does rely on air conditioning units, liquid cooling or even high-powered fans. Instead, the underground facility relies on the natural temperature of the very caverns used to house their servers. Known as geothermal cooling, the process virtually eliminates the need for industrial air conditioners and cooling systems with a steady temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

As explained by Charles Doughty, vice president of engineering with Iron Mountain, the resultant savings can reach figures well into the millions of dollars. "Today, a 10,000 square-foot data center that is running about 150 watts per square foot costs roughly $10 million per megawatt to construction, depending on location, design and cost of energy," he said in a recent article. "If the approximately 15 percent rate of data growth of the last decade continues over the next decade, that same data center would cost $37 million per megawatt. A full thirty percent of these costs are related to the mechanical challenges of cooling a data center."


Whether you are looking for greater data security, increased efficiency or a more environmentally friendly means of data storage, Iron Mountain's National Data Center has you covered. Located 220 feet below ground, the facility covers 145 acres of a former limestone mine.

The low ambient temperature -- which is a direct result of the geothermal effect of the cave -- allows the Iron Mountain National Data Center to operate at a consistent Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of less than 1.3. Recognized as the standard in measuring data center energy usage, the PUE rating was established by an organization known as The Green Grid in order to monitor, track and improve energy consumption in the 21st century.

The Future of Underground Cooling

Using the natural geothermal effect of an underground location as the primary cooling source for your data center is a highly innovative and ingenious method of maintaining an optimal operating temperature. However, there is still room for improvement. As Iron Mountain's vice president pointed out, he has yet to tap the full potential of the Iron Mountain National Data Center.

"There are even opportunities to turn these facilities into energy creators," said Doughty. "For example, by adding power generating turbines atop boreholes, operators can harness the power of heat rising from the data centers below. Furthermore, by tapping into natural gas reserves, subterranean data centers could become a prime energy source, thus eliminating the need for generators and potentially achieving a power usage effectiveness measurement of less than one."


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