Iron Mountain is among the oldest and best known providers of underground storage and data centre space. Known for storing everything from backup tapes to old movie reels in The Underground, its repurposed limestone mine in rural Pennsylvania, the company has seen its electronic storage and leased data centre space business increase while its traditional paper record storage business has slowed.
"It is now the fastest growing component of our business," says vice president Charles Doughty. In addition to leasing rack-ready space, the company offers data centre design, hosting and management services.
But while interest is up, the number of actual customers leasing space in its underground data centres remains small. Iron Mountain counts five operating data centres in its underground facility, including its own. But with 60,000 square feet of available data centre space and another 145 acres undeveloped in the facility, Iron Mountain has plenty of room for more.
Underground data centre facilities fall into two categories: Abandoned mines, like Iron Mountain's, and decommissioned military bunkers such as InfoBunker, a subterranean facility just outside of Des Moines, Iowa. InfoBunker leases datacentre space to organisations ranging from a local telephone company to government agencies about which Jeff Daniels, a vice president at the company, says he can't talk.
On the demand side, an increase in extreme weather events, heightened concerns about security since 9/11 and the need to provide higher levels of security to comply with regulatory requirements have made these spaces more attractive to some organisations. Underground facilities offer security and structural protections that would be cost prohibitive to build from scratch.
Meanwhile, the recession and credit crunch have made it harder to get funding to build new data centres, and organisations have become more accepting of the idea of using co-location facilities to house mission-critical datacentre operations. "Demand for computer space is stronger than I've ever seen it [and] the supply is so small, so inadequate," says Peter Gross, vice president and general manager at HP Critical Facilities.