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HP opens first ever wind-cooled data center

The data center in north east England is the most energy-efficient one that HP has ever built

By Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service
February 10, 2010 09:31 AM ET

IDG News Service - From the outside, HP's newest data center looks like a massive, well-secured loading dock, devoid of logos and surrounded by a robust barbed-wired fence in a nondescript industrial park.

Inside a green data center

The low-profile approach is intentional, as HP's Wynyard center is intended to hold the most valuable asset for many companies: their data. HP will use the data center to compete with companies such as IBM for IT services and management contracts, a growing source of revenue that requires secure data centers.

HP is hoping several of the environmentally friendly design features of the 360,000-square-foot Wynyard facility will push it ahead. It is HP's most energy efficient data center that it has built, said Maurice Julian, U.K. facilities project director. Half of the facility is now complete, comprising four data halls, with room to create four more data halls as demand dictates.

The data center was originally started by IT outsourcer EDS, which was then acquired by HP for US$13.9 billion in May 2008. The building sits in a blustery and chilly area about eight miles west of the North Sea in the northeast of England. It is entirely air-cooled: HP has built eight 2.1-meter stainless steel and plastic intake fans to draw cool air.

The air runs through a massive bank of modular filters to remove dust and other contaminants before it circulates in a massive cavity, called a plenum, below its data center halls.

The air is forced up though the floor and runs over the front of server racks before being exhausted. The system keeps the hall at a constant 24C (75.2F). When it is cold outside, some of the exhausted heat is recirculated with the outside air to maintain the right temperature.

In Billingham, the outside temperature only rises above 24C for about 20 hours a year, but the facility still needed traditional chillers for those occasions, Julian said. To run a closed system, data center operators can close the louvers that let in outside air.

"It's an ideal climate for this type of solution," Julian said. "We're moving large volumes of air at a low speed."

Installing chillers in addition to building the natural air cooling added about 6 percent to the cost of building the data center, Julian said. The extra cost should be recouped in as few as two years due to the power savings.

Power is one of the highest costs for a data center. A facility's efficiency is measured in PUE, or Power Usage Effectiveness, which is a ratio that compares the total power used by a facility to the power used by its equipment.

Running at a full load, HP has calculated that the Wynyard facility has a 1.2 PUE, meaning that for every 1.2 watts of electricity used by the data center, 1 watt is used to power IT equipment, the rest being used for cooling and other facility needs.

Julian said each of the four data halls actually have a 1.16 PUE on their own, but that increases slightly to take into account electricity consumption in other areas, such as the 20,000-square foot office facilities.

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