Sun to set up data center in coal mine

Underground facility to preserve power.

Sun and a consortium of other businesses are going to lower Blackbox self-contained computing facilities into a Japanese coal mine to set up an underground data center, using up to 50 percent less power than a ground-level data center.

The coolant will be ground water and the site's temperature is a constant 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) all year, meaning no air-conditioning will be needed outside the containers. This reduces the energy required for the water chillers, used with surface-level Blackbox containers.

The group estimates that up to US$9 million of electricity costs could be saved annually if the center were to run 30,000 server cores.

Sun is working with eleven other companies, including Internet Initiative Japan - an ISP, BearingPoint, Itochu Techno-Solutions and NS Solutions. They will form a joint venture with Sun. NTT Communications and Chuo University are also involved.

The disused coal mine is located in the Chubu region on Japan's Honshu island. Sun will build 30 Blackbox self-contained data centers containing a total of 10,000 servers (cores). This can be increased to 30,000 cores if there is the demand for it.

The containers will be lowered 100 million into the mine and linked to power, water cooling and network lines via external connectors.

Sun has been developing its Blackbox concept for three years and a typical one has 250 servers mounted in seven racks inside a standard 20-foot shipping container. Sun says that With T-series processors, a single Blackbox can hold up to 2,000 cores, providing 8,000 simultaneous processing threads.

Such a subterranean data center will be easier to secure against unauthorized entry and terrorist attacks. The Blackbox containers are robust enough to withstand earthquakes, being capable of withstanding a quake of magnitude 6.7 on the Richter scale. The Nihonkai-Chubu earthquake shook the region in 1983.

The project has been initially estimated to cost US$405 million and the site should start offering data center services to public and private sector customers in April, 2010.

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