Drones, Caves, and Toilets: When Data Centers Go Rogue

AOL has dropped its “Micro Data Center” into a field behind its Virginia headquarters. But the online outfit wants to put the thing … everywhere. Image: AOL

eBay cooks its data center modules in the Arizona sun. Image: Green Grid

London’s Interxion has built sleeping pods into a data center that will help drive the Olympics. Keeping a data center going is a fulltime job — especially when the Games arrive. Photo: Interxion

Whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks is hosted in a Bahnhof data center deep inside a bunker carved into the White Mountains of Sweden. Image: Bahnhof

Leafdal Mine claims it’s one of the world’s most efficient datacenters. (Image: Lefdal/YouTube Screengrab)

To build its data center on the southern coast of Finland, Google reincarnated a dead paper mill. Image: Google

In Georgia, Google cools its data center with recycled toilet water. (Image:

Google owns a patent on a kind of data-center navy. Image: Google Patent US7525207

Blueseed – one of Peter Thiel’s myriad investments – envisions a floating IT fortress immune from U.S. immigration law. Image: Blueseed

Rogue file-sharing site The Pirate Bay plans to put its servers on flying drones so that law enforcement can’t shut them down without shooting them down. (Image: Ars Electronica/Flickr)

Server Sky wants to put a data center in spaaaaace! Image: id-iom/Flickr

As revealed by AOL data center guru Mike Manos, this “Micro Data Center” is designed to instantly give the company added computing power wherever it’s needed. In his blog post, Manos showed off a prototype of this contraption sitting in the middle of an empty field behind an AOL building in Dulles, Virginia.

The creation is part of an AOL project dubbed “Nibiru,” after a “mythical planet that is said to cross into our solar system and wreak havoc and bring about great change.” The aim, Manos says, is to deploy this Micro Data Center anywhere, regardless of temperature or humidity, and include all of the tools needed to oversee them from afar.

“Out on a lonely slab of concrete in the back of one of the buildings our future has taken shape,” writes Manos, who once oversaw data-center operations at Microsoft. “The inherent flexibility of the design allows us a greater number of places around the planet where we can deploy capacity, and that is pretty revolutionary. We are no longer tied to traditional data-center facilities or co-location markets.”

Manos may wreak his own brand of havoc on the data-center world, but he has a long way to go if he wants to match the world’s most creative efforts to reinvent data-center design (see images above).

Almost decade ago, inspired by the Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive, Google started packing server and networking gear into shipping containers, and in building its data centers, it would piece these containers together like Legos. This spawned a kind of modular data center craze, with eBay going to far as to put its data centers on the roof of its scorching hot data center in Arizona.

Then, in 2010, Google reincarnated a dead paper mill as a data center. And it has long used recycled toilet water to cool its facility in Douglas County, Georgia. But that’s small peanuts.

The search giant owns a patent on a kind of data center navy that can float to the rescue when disaster strikes, and others have proposed similar ideas. A company called Blueseed, for instance, wants to build a floating IT fortress in order sidestep U.S. immigration laws in building the startups of the future.

Meanwhile, the Barcelona Supercomputer Center sits inside a cathedral. It has to be world’s most beautiful data center. And a Swedish ISP called Bahnhof has built a data center inside a James-Bond-villain-esque bunker carved into the side of Stockholm’s White Mountain. This super secure facility is where the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks houses its servers – or at least some of them.

In Scandinavia, they like the buried-data-center idea. It’s one way of keeping servers cool. In Norway, the government has worked with IBM to build a data center inside an abandoned olivine mine, billed as the world’s largest.

But some think on a higher level. Rogue file-sharing site The Pirate Bay wants to put its servers in the sky, attaching them to flying drones so it can elude law enforcement. And the Oregon-based Server Sky wants to build data centers in space – and power them with the sun.

“Integrating power generation and computing in space can greatly reduce the materials and manufacturing needed to deploy and power a data center,” Keith Lofstrom, Server Sky’s director, tells Wired. “Delivering computation from space, Server Sky can focus on cities, villages, even small companies poised for rapid growth, without having to deploy and maintain nationwide communication and electricity infrastructure.”

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