9 Data Centers: Unexpected Beauty And Creativity

, October 04, 2012 Most data centers are boring boxes--but not all. Take a look at a data center that houses a supercomputer in a chapel, or an underground data center with James Bond-styling, or a solar-powered data center, and much, much more.
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Data Centers As Art

Take a look at the image of a beautiful chapel in Barcelona, Spain. You would never imagine that inside that lovely building is one of the world's most powerful supercomputers. It is that unexpected contrast that helped to inspire Douglas Alger to write a just-published book called The Art of the Data Center: A Look Inside the World's Most Innovative and Compelling Computing Environments.

Alger is a former newspaper reporter who became an IT guy at Cisco. He now works as an IT architect in the Cisco on Cisco group, which shares the company's data center experiences and lessons learned with outside organizations. He previously worked on the data center design and operations teams at Cisco. He also has written other books on data centers, including Build the Best Data Center Facility for Your Business and Grow a Greener Data Center, and writes the Data Center Reconstructed blog for Cisco.

While researching his book on green data centers, Alger came across some images of the Bahnhof data center in Sweden. "It looked sleek and impressive. It was a James Bond data center, with dramatic lighting, artificial waterfalls. I knew there was a great story to tell," he said.

So he started looking for and making a list of interesting data centers. "There are stories to tell about these rooms. I mentioned the idea to my wife and she said that she might read this kind of book. That's when I knew I might have a good idea since she isn't involved in data centers at all," he laughed.

The book features 18 data centers, all of which have some unusual aspect. As befits a book written by a true data center geek, it has stats sheets on each data center that details everything from power consumption to time to design and build to what kind of fire suppression system is in place. There are many interviews with the key people involved in designing and building the data centers, covering the challenges faced and lessons learned.

For example, Jon Karlung, founder and chairman of Bahnhof, describes why he built an underground data center with unusual features: "It was a fun thing to do. It is like playing. The funness of it also brought us an advantage in marketing. The great inspiration has been one-part James Bond and one-part Star Trek or science fiction movies and stuff like that."

The book also is filled with photos that show in great detail many of the unusual aspects of each data center, from the cooling systems to the architectural details to design and placement of infrastructure systems. You can get a taste of the images featured in The Art of the Data Center in the following slideshow. Images courtesy of Barcelona Supercomputing Center


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