Basic co-location space isn't the problem, says Jon Bolen, chief technology officer at Westec Intelligent Surveillance. The surveillance-monitoring service, based in Des Moines Iowa, serves clients such as McDonald's and Zales, and recently completed a search for a hardened facility for its own backup data centre. During this search, Bolen saw a general lack of high-end infrastructure, of enterprise-class data centre space. "If you need space that is as good or better than the space you would build there's a shortage of places you can go."
This shortage has given the underground facilities an opening to pull in larger data centre clients. Cavern says it is negotiating with Fortune 500 clients looking to lease spaces of 30,000 to 100,000 square feet. However, most clients are smaller organisations that don't require so much space; more typical would be a hospital that leases 1,500 sq. feet.
One might assume that IT organisations would have to pay a premium for bunker space. After all, the cost of building such a structure is high, and special venting and air-flow systems are required. But IT executives say they've driven deals where the total cost of ownership is competitive with above-ground facilities.
Because they're repurposing existing space that the government or a mine operator paid to build, providers say they don't have to pass on the original construction costs for the structures and can afford to be cost competitive.
Consider the cons
Before deciding to go underground, IT executives need to identify potential limitations, experts say. Even things as simple as ceiling height can be a challenge. Continental's data centre space in the Westland bunker has 10-foot ceilings, and putting full-height racks on top of an 18-inch raised floor was a tight fit. "We had to come up with a design to allow us to use full-height racks while providing sufficient airflow," Stelly says.
Another concern: While computer systems may be protected in a bunker, critical infrastructure needed during a disaster, such as generators, fuel tanks and air conditioning cooling towers, may be above ground. That could be a problem if the catastrophe you need to worry about is a tornado, warns Westec's Bolen.
Bolen recounts how one company claimed that its hardened facility could withstand a direct hit from an F3 (158 to 206 mph) tornado. But the air conditioning and generators were outside. "When an F3 hits, those generator and HVAC units are going to come off their pads," he says.
Westec ended up taking space at InfoBunker, about 45 miles away from its offices, Bolen says. The 65,000 square foot Cold War command bunker, designed to withstand a 20-megaton nuclear blast, maintains all infrastructure, including generators, fuel and cooling equipment, 50 feet underground.