Google opens tiny window onto Baltic Sea-cooled data center

Inside the newspaper destruction metaphor


Google has released a video showing off the sea water–based cooling system used by its new data center on the southern coast of Finland.

Due to go live later this year, the company's Hamina, Finland, data center was built on the site of a former paper mill – how's that for a metaphor? – and as previously revealed, the facility will be cooled solely with water from the gulf of Finland. As with the company's data center in Saint-Ghislain, it will not use power-scarfing chillers.

According to the video – available here – Google runs sea water to the facility through a tunnel that was built for the Summa paper mill as far back as the 1950s. The water, says Google senior director of data center construction Joe Kava, is run through a heat exchanger, where it is used to dissipate heat from the facility's servers.

Data Center Knowledge reports that the sea water goes through four separate straining systems before it reaches the heat exchanger, and that it cools a separate water stream that's then used to cool the data center.

The water is then moved to a "tempering building", where it's mixed with a separate stream of water from from the sea, so that it's cooled before returning to the gulf. "We return it a temperature that is much more similar to the inlet temperature, so we minimize any environmental impact in that area," Kava says.

In February of 2009, Google paid €40 million (roughly $52 million) for the 53-year-old Summa paper mill. At the time, the company said the purchase included roughly 166 hectares (410 acres) of land and that it would spend about €200 million ($260 million) building one of its top-secret data centers. That includes the purchase price.

Global paper-maker Stora Enso shuttered the Summa Mill early in 2008, pointing to a drop in newsprint and magazine-paper production that lead to "persistent losses in recent years and poor long-term profitability prospects." Nowadays, you see, people like to get their news and magazine stories from places like Google data centers.

According to previous Computer Sweden article, the pipes used to pull water from the Baltic are two meters in diameter and the system uses 20-year-old water pumps installed by the mill. Yes, they've been refurbished.

With its data center in Belgium, Google uses the outside air to keep temperatures down, and if temperatures get too high, it apparently shifts the data center's loads to other Google facilities using a proprietary platform known as Spanner. According to a Google PowerPoint presentation, Spanner is a “storage and computation system that spans all our data centers [and that] automatically moves and adds replicas of data and computation based on constraints and usage patterns", including constraints involving bandwidth, packet loss, power, resources, and “failure modes".

Presumably, the Finland data center can benefit from Spanner as well.

Google senior manager of engineering and architecture Vijay Gill alluded to the technology at a conference in 2009. “Sometimes, there’s a temperature excursion, and you might want to do a quick load-shedding – a quick load-shedding to prevent a temperature excursion because, hey, you have a data center with no chillers. You want to move some load off. You want to cut some CPUs and some of the processes in RAM,” he said.

“What we’ve got here [with Google] is massive – like hundreds of thousands of variable linear programming problems that need to run in quasi-real-time. When the temperature starts to excurse in a data center, you don’t have the luxury to sitting around for a half an hour… You have on the order of seconds.”

Computer Sweden also reported that the Finland data center will make use of wind power and that at least some of this would come from a new 12 MW wind park next to the facility. This is alluded to in Google's video. ®

Update: This story originally cited a Data Center Knowledge claim that Google's inlet pipe is 7.5 miles below the surface of the Baltic Sea. But this information is likely incorrect.


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