Friday, 5 September 2014

Geodesic Dome Data Centre Goes Outside the Norms

When Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) IT guru Perry Gliessman set about to design and build the university's new data centre, he knew he had a brilliant plan that was well outside the norms of data centre construction.  Rather than building a concrete box as so many others do, he decided to make his new facility a geodesic dome. It was no easy task to convince partners that his design was a good idea.

Geodesic domes have been used for all sorts of commercial applications, ranging from planetariums to sports facilities. However, until Gliessman came up with his design, the idea of a geodesic dome data centre was virtually unheard of.  For Gliessman, the shape and structure of the geodesic dome was perfect for his needs.

According to Gliessman, his number one concern was being able to provide economic cooling for data centres destined for extreme power consumption.  He wanted to employ free cooling as much as possible, but that requires an incredible amount of airflow.  It turns out that the geodesic dome is the perfect shape for producing the kind of airflow Gliessman was after.  His design has proved more than capable of providing the necessary cooling for high-performance servers averaging 25 kW per rack.

Gliessman designed a system of air intakes, fans and louvres that work together to constantly move the air.  The fans bring cool air in from outdoors, funnelling it into a series of rooms and corridors within the dome.  From there, the air moves through the IT space, beginning at floor level and rising through the interior spaces of the dome.  The hot air then escapes through the louvres to complete the cycle. Gliessman even designed a way to capture some of that hot air for recycling through the building.

The success of the design lies in the fact that the IT space has no ceilings or hard corners.  That means very little air is trapped anywhere in the space.  It flows, rises and escapes in a continual cycle that is constantly changing the air.  The facility's equipment is also able to regulate the amount of cool air from the exterior compared to the recycled hot air to adjust for temperature fluctuations during the various seasons.

The most amazing thing about this system is that it requires none of the traditional elements of a modern data centre.  There are no raised floors, chillers, air ducts or air handlers.  Everything is handled by fans and physics.

Working with Vendors


Next to the design itself, the biggest challenge for Gliessman was to convince his vendors to think outside the box.  “Most people have embedded concepts about data centre design,” Gliessman told Data Center Knowledge, “and, like all of us folks, [they] are fairly religious about those.”  The only way Gliessman was able to convince them was to prepare the data to prove his ideas beforehand.   Through a lot of research and extensive modelling, he was able to pull it off. 



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