Service provider data center architects share innovations in design

Not all data center architects are artists, but data center design is an art form. In this chapter excerpt, explore some of the latest innovations.

Editor's note: Not all data center architects are known for their artistic flair, but data center design is definitely an art form in itself. When it comes to form versus function, however, function usually wins out with this crowd.

A new book from author Douglas Alger, The Art of the Data Center, shows that these goals need not be mutually exclusive, though. Alger showcases several large data center operators -- including cloud providers like Terremark and IBM, as well as Internet giants like Facebook and eBay -- that are injecting innovation into their architectures.

The accompanying excerpt is from the third chapter of the book, profiling some of the panache behind a data center in Sweden that Internet service provider Bahnhof operates. A full PDF of Chapter 3 is available for download on as well, courtesy of Prentice Hall.

Be sure to read our accompanying Q&A with the author, "A look at the world's most innovative cloud data center designs," to learn more about how the data center architects at Terremark, IBM and Cisco Systems are optimizing their architectures for cloud services.

Chapter 3: Bahnhof

Anyone who sees Bahnhof's Data Center in Stockholm is forgiven the urge to hum the theme music of their favorite science fiction movie. That's because the Internet service provider purposefully designed its server environment to evoke the cinematic look and feel of Silent Running, Logan's Run, and any number of James Bond movies.

A circular, glass-walled conference room with an image of the moon covering its floor overlooks the server area. Multi-colored lights showcase manmade waterfalls and greenhouses. Second-hand diesel engines used in German submarines provide standby power for the facility. A submarine sound-horn is installed near the engines and alarms in the event of a system malfunction.

Cementing the other-worldly feel of this server environment is the fact that it resides in a former nuclear bunker about 100 feet (30 meters) below ground, sheltered behind 15.7-inch (40-centimenter) thick metal doors. Bahnhof has retained the site's Cold War codename, Pionen White Mountains, and a few of its trappings. "These doors should be locked at DEFCON1," reads a placard near the entrance.

The Bahnhof Data Center is a truly one-of-a-kind facility that took shape thanks to a clear design vision, judicious use of explosives and a strong desire to build something out of the ordinary. Jon Karlung, founder and chairman of the board of Bahnhof, discusses the challenges of building an underground server environment and the value that his data center's cinematic features provide.

Excerpted from The Art of the Data Center by Douglas Alger (ISBN-13: 978-1-58714-296-3). Copyright 2012, Prentice Hall. All rights reserved.

Download this free PDF to continue reading this chapter excerpt about data center designs from The Art of the Data Center.

Art of the Data Center

About the book:
Today, data centers are the beating hearts of the companies they serve. They process billions of Internet transactions every day. Although specifications like cooling, wiring or power usage are often the subject of technical documents, it's harder to find a holistic view of how a great data center was designed. In The Art of the Data Center, Douglas Alger takes readers behind the scenes at 18 of the world's most innovative data centers. Through interviews with their designers, Alger reveals why key decisions were made, and shows how construction and other challenges were overcome.

Readers will encounter amazing data centers like these:

  • A data center built into a 1920s chapel
  • A data center built in an underground military bunker, with artificial daylight, manmade waterfalls and submarine engines
  • A data center inspired by a chicken coop
  • The world's first all-solar data center

About the author:
Douglas Alger is an IT architect for physical infrastructure at Cisco. He develops architecture roadmaps, solutions and policies for the physical infrastructure of the company's data centers and other critical facilities around the world.

Alger has more than 20 years of varied professional experience -- including more than 12 years in data center physical design, data center operations, IT project management, construction project management and IT infrastructure management. He has participated in more than 80 major data center projects, from all-new construction to substantially retrofitting existing facilities, and is the author of two data center design books, Grow a Greener Data Centerand Build the Best Data Center Facility for Your Business.

This was last published in November 2012

Dig Deeper on Telecommunication networking

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.