Could the giants of the web heat the cities of the future?

An old World War II bomb shelter under a cathedral in Helsinki, combined with some brilliant thinking, will soon lead to the greenest databank on the planet and an innovative way to keep a city warm. Or at least that’s what Juha Sipila, the project manager for Helsingin Energia, based in the Finnish capital seems to think.

Server farms are so energy-intensive that some, like Google’s, are reported to use as much electricity as a small city. Many ideas have been mooted to make them more eco-friendly, including hosting them in outer space.

But Helsingen Energia, along with Finnish IT firm, Academica, have a novel solution. They are building a server farm in an abandoned bomb shelter that will use water from the city to cool their data banks and in doing so, provide heating for nearby apartments and houses.

With temperatures as low as – 30C in winter, heating alone has a huge carbon footprint in Helsinki, not to mention the astronomical costs of keeping a server farm cool. Helsingin Energia plans to change this with their 1350km  network of underground pipes and  tunnels that supplies hot water to 450 000 people at 115C.

The server farm will be cooled using seawater which gets as cold as 8C. Once heated by the servers, the water will then be filtered into the heating network. After the water has been used to heat various buildings and has cooled again it will be fed back into the system, thus creating a green and looped cooling solution for the server farm. This is a practical, eco-friendly solution for an ever growing problem as data centres are consuming vast amounts of energy just to stay cool.

Juha recently told the Times Online, “This will be the greenest and most energy-efficient data centre in the world.”

Reportedly only about 40% of the energy consumed by server farms is used for computing. “For technology companies like Google and IBM, this is a very big issue,” Matti Roto, of Academica said. “The cost of paying for all that energy is huge — quite apart from the emissions — so it is very important to find solutions to improve efficiency.”

For the moment however, the Academica server centre is still just a pilot project that will supply enough hot water to heat 1000 flats. The firm does however have plans for a much bigger scheme which will include  2000 square metres of server racks. This, they say, should make a difference not only to the server farm’s energy consumption, but also to the heating costs of one of the coldest capitals in the world, and possibly points the way to a solution for one of the most troubling problems faced by IT giants like Google, Microsoft and Apple.

Do you have any innovative ideas for server farms?



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