If you happen to be driving towards Buffalo, New York and you spy some big ole commercial-grade chicken coops in the town of Lockport, those aren't chicken coops. They're Yahoo! server coops, the most efficient data centers the company has built thus far.
As El Reg reported a little more than a year ago, Yahoo! had selected the Lockport site for its newest $150m data center so it could feed its servers with the carbon-free hydroelectric power that is generated from Niagara Falls. The New York Power Authority, which runs the hydropower generation in western New York and which has Niagara Falls as its main generating facility, guaranteed a total of 15 megawatts of hydropower to Yahoo! at a price that was estimated to save the Internet giant around $100m over a 15-year period.
That is real green (as in greenbacks) as well as real green (as in saving the planet from carbon dioxide and other forms of hot air). And speaking of hot air, the Buffalo area doesn't have a lot of it, which makes it perfect for an air-cooled data center like Yahoo! has build in Lockport.
Down on the server farm with the Yahoo Compute Coop
After Yahoo! had committed to building the Lockport facility, the US Department of Energy, seeking to splurge the Obama Administration's economic stimulus money, spread around $47m in cashish to help make data centers and telecommunications facilities more energy efficient; partners with the DOE kicked in another $70m in matching funds. Yahoo! got $9.9m in funding to help defer some of the costs of the Lockport data center.
The Yahoo Compute Coop is designed with open walls and to take advantage of the ambient air temperature and the natural airflow that the chicken coop design brings. Take a gander (or a rooster, as it were) at this closeup shot:
The Compute Coop: Almost like sitting your servers outside
Each of the Compute Coops measures 120 by 60 feet, and the open air walls, moderate temperature, and steadily blowing wind in the Buffalo area allows for outside air to cool the coop 99 per cent of the time during the year. Sometimes, Yahoo! will have to fire up some alternate cooling to keep the servers from melting. Yahoo! reckons that the Compute Coops have a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of about 1.08. PUE is the ratio of the total power used by the data center divided by the total power supplied to the computing equipment, and is a measure of how efficient a data center design is. And that is a very respectable PUE that is running up against the laws of thermodynamics.
No chickens, no hogs
Yahoo! cites statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency that the average data center is a power hog, with a PUE of 1.92. That basically means that for every watt of computing, you need to supply nearly another watt for power distribution and cooling. Hewlett-Packard was bragging back in July that its "Butterfly" modular data centers would have a PUE of 1.25 or lower. Yahoo! rival Google has said that its PUE ratings on its data centers range from 1.15 to 1.25, with its lowest quarterly average being 1.10.
Servers roosting in the Yahoo! Compute Coop
Yahoo! has a 30 acre facility on Lockport and has built up 155,000 square feet of data center capacity on the site thus far and secured 10 megawatts of power. (The original plan from last year called for 190,000 square feet.) A second phase of the buildout in 2012 calls for Yahoo! to add more data center space (how much has not been divulged) and get its mitts on another 5 megawatts of power.
Interesting silly stats from Yahoo!: The amount of energy the company saved by going to the coop design could power 1.1 million laptops for a year and a mere 9,000 New York households. Our houses, it seems, are like baby data centers in their own right. Maybe they need a coop design, too? ®