Yahoo invents 'chicken coop' data centre design

But e-shelter pours cold water on it.

Yahoo is touting a data centre design which it says is based on 'chicken coops'. But data centre operator e-shelter, while welcoming the concept, has queried whether the design would be suitable for the corporate sector.

According to a blog by co-founder and chief yahoo, David Filo, Yahoo's new data centre in Lockport, New York will feature a new design that the company has dubbed the 'Yahoo! Computing Coop'.

"For data centre geeks, we expect our Lockport, NY, data centre design will have an annualised average PUE (power usage effectiveness) of 1.1 or better," Filo wrote. "To achieve that, we've come up with a unique building design that we call the Yahoo Computing Coop (because it looks like something chickens live in), which is angled to take advantage of Buffalo's microclimate, using 100 percent outside air to cool the servers."

The Yahoo Computing Coops will be metal prefabricated structures measuring 120 feet by 60 feet, according to the Buffalo News. The company plans to use five of these structures in its Lockport complex. Apparently, each of the coops will have louvre (or horizontal slates) walls to allow free cold air to flow into the area housing the computer equipment and cool the servers.

Indeed, Yahoo has even rotated the complex about 10 degrees clockwise in order to make sure it can take advantage of prevailing winds during the months it needs the cooling. The newspaper also said that each of the coops will have a peaked roof, with a "penthouse" running along the top of the structure to manage the release of waste heat from the hot aisle.

The Lockport data centre will also apparently be predominantly powered by renewable hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls.

But e-shelter, which develops and operates its own data centres feels that while the chicken coop design is interesting, most businesses would not be prepared to accept the inherent risks in this approach.

"While we welcome and admire the ground breaking approaches of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft's of this world, the concept is not generally applicable to the environment we operate in," said Phil Lydford, CEO at e-shelter, UK.

"We haven't come across it called a chicken coop before, but the idea of a louvered walls with the servers as open as possible to the prevailing winds has been seen before," he told Techworld.

"What they are doing here is in effect placing their servers in the chicken coop, which is angled in such way that the wind passes through louvers in order to cool the servers, but with no backup cooling," Lydford said. "Most of the year it should work, but it will be interesting to see how it works during the summer. Other data centres we have seen use this concept, rely on large volumes of air to cool the data centre and have chillers to act as a backup."

"This comes down to what environment is suitable for their servers," said Lydford. "Yahoo and Google are saying they are prepared to step outside manufacturers' requirements on humidity and temperature etc."

"People like Yahoo and Google are masters of their own destiny, but it is different for banks, and data centre operators like ourselves, as we need to be able deliver service level agreements to our customers," said Lydford.

Lydford feels that the problem with the chicken coop concept is the lack of control over the air cooling the equipment. "We have a fine level of control over everything from humidity, temperature, dust, smoke etc," he said. "The problem with the louvered wall concept is that it limits your level of control."

He cited the danger of a fire upwind, as particulates can cause havoc with disk drives for example, while dampness from heavy humidity can cause electrical problems. "The lack of a controlled environment brings inherent risk," he said.

"People like Google and Yahoo can rely on duplicate technology, duplicate servers etc, and they are not as worried about technology failure, because with their technology replacement strategy, it is not an issue," said Adam Tamburini, planning and construction director at e-shelter. "But temperatures or humidity outside the hardware requirements might limit hardware lifespan and also the reliability of the equipment, and corporates won't be prepared to accept that risk factor."

"Google and Yahoo are like concept cars," said Tamburini. "It is important for us to look at what they doing, because the technology may go mainstream eventually. We are conscious and impressed at what they are doing, and will be examining the results and it could open up the parameters for us to do more things."

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