Chicken Coop Inspires High-Tech Server Farm


Yahoo’s new server farm is based on the design of a chicken coop.
Courtesy Yahoo

Internet companies are in a constant quest to find the next best thing, but Yahoo! Inc. has turned to an unlikely arena at its new facility in Lockport, New York: agricultural design. Last month, the company opened a state-of-the-art data center with an ultra-efficient model based on a chicken coop.

Data centers are notorious energy-gobblers. They account for 23 percent of carbon emissions from global information and communications technology, according to research firm Gartner, and they claim about 1.5 percent of total electricity usage in the U.S. Much of this consumption comes from cooling the space used to house data servers, so the Yahoo Computing Coop, as the company calls it, mimics long, narrow industrial chicken coops designed to improve natural airflow.

“With the Yahoo chicken coop design, we are spending less than one cent for cooling for every dollar we spend on electricity,” said David Dibble, executive vice president of Yahoo’s service engineering and operations department, at the ribbon-cutting for the facility, which is located not far from Niagara Falls.

  Servers inside Yahoo's new server farm.

Servers inside Yahoo’s ultra-efficient new server farm.

Scott Noteboom, Yahoo’s director of data center engineering operations, worked with construction firm Structure Tone to design the $150 million facility. He visited old factories in the Buffalo area to learn how they had used air from the Great Lakes for cooling. Some, like smelting plants, were designed so that a central heat source would create a chimney effect that expelled air from the building.

At the Lockport center, each 120-by-60-foot server building has walls of metal louvers that allow fresh air to enter the server space, where it is drawn into a contained aisle of hot air that vents into a long, louvered cupola atop each building. Warm air can be recirculated in cool weather, and an evaporative cooling system, which uses significantly less water than a typical data center chiller, will switch on if the weather is too warm for convection cooling.

Coupled with western New York’s cool climate, prevailing winds, and hydropower, the new 150,000-square-foot center uses 40 percent less energy and 95 percent less water than conventional data centers. In addition to housing more than 50,000 servers, it will eventually include an infrastructure monitoring center and a 24-hour employee help desk.

Yahoo’s move to Lockport came with heavy incentives from the state: 15 megawatts of hydropower from the New York Power Authority for Phase 1, which includes an administrative building and three data coops. The town’s Industrial Development Agency also provided a package that included a payment in lieu of taxes agreement. And earlier this year, the DOE awarded the design a $9.9 million sustainability grant, the largest given to date in its new Green IT program.

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