Data Center Finds Security 85 Feet Below Ground

Data Center Operations LLC builds 750,000-square-foot operation in abandoned mine 85 feet below ground.

For the dozens of data centers run by mainstream Web hosters like IBM, WorldCom Inc. and Verio Inc., and the thousands more controlled within enterprises, "security" usually means trained guards, diesel generators, and electronic surveillance.

Others go to an extreme, with biometric security, hosting in old bank vaults and even guard dogs.

But other, highly specialized data centers take security to new levels. The latest, Underground Secure Data Center Operations, officially launched this week in a 750,000-square-foot former gypsum mine, 85 feet below ground in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The advantages, said co-founder Irv Wolfson, are numerous. Most important, the company—officially called Data Center Operations LLC—has no need for air cooling, one of the most expensive parts of building a normal data center.

"The mine is a perfect place to house a collocation facility. We have an abundance of 50-degree air," he said.

The air is cooled through two shafts, and since the mine is roughly circular in shape, the air only needs a few large fans to circulate, he said. Moreover, theyll never run out of space: the massive square footage has six miles of tunnels and equipment rooms, which equates to about a 300-yard-diameter circle.

USDCO, which opened in July, has 15 customers so far, but profitability should come by next spring, Wolfson said. The capital savings are passed on to customers, he said.

Still, USDCOs operation has challengers, at least in terms of uniqueness: others like it are housed in various abandoned nuclear missile silos. There are others, as well, in unique locations, such as HavenCo Ltd., on the independent island nation of Sealand, off the coast of England, and Mount10, which is at a military installation within a government-owned mountain in the Swiss Alps.