DataBank Atlanta: A Taste of Smart City Projects to Come?

June 26, 2019
How will data centers fit into the smart cities of the future? DataBank provides a preview with its new Atlanta data center, which features a liquid cooled HPC center and will reuse server waste heat and include a microgrid.

How will data centers fit into the smart cities of the future? This issue has come to the fore this week with the launch of one visionary project, and the unveiling of a vision for another.

DataBank this week announced the launch of its ATL1 data center in Downtown Atlanta, which houses a supercomputer and advanced computing lab, and will reuse of server waste heat and include a microgrid to provide access to multiple sources of energy.

Meanwhile, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs announced plans for a smart cities district on Toronto’s Waterfront (“a neighborhood built from the Internet up”) that would also employ a microgrid and reuse waste heat from an existing data center operated by Equinix.

At Data Center Frontier we believe there are interesting opportunities for IT deployments in mixed-use environments, particularly as data centers become a more integrated part of urban and suburban landscapes. There are obvious opportunities to place compute and storage space closer to business like startup incubators and technology districts, where a critical mass of tenants will require low-latency access and conduct data analytics on large datasets.

There are also be opportunities to innovate in power and cooling, such as using server waste heat in district heating systems for adjacent office and residential space, a practice that is common in some European cities.

Here’s a look at the two projects, and how they are integrating data centers into the fabric of an urban technology district.

Data Hub for Technology Square

DataBank is partnering with anchor tenant Georgia Tech to create a high performance computing center (HPCC) within the Coda development, a 645,000 square foot mixed-use office, computing center and retail complex. Coda is located within Technology Square, a tech district in Midtown Atlanta that has the highest density of startups, corporate innovators, and academic researchers in the entire southeastern United States.

The 94,000 square foot DataBank data center is designed to support thousands of computer scientists, software developers, IT leaders and professionals located within a three-block radius of the facility. It houses the Southern Crossroads Internet2 network node, providing high-speed connectivity to research and education sites nationwide.

ATL1 also hosts the Georgia Tech liquid-cooled supercomputer, which offers high performance computing to the institution’s faculty, professors, research scientists, graduate students and its academic and governmental affiliates. Computational scientists will run intense data-driven research in astrophysics, computational biology, health sciences, computational chemistry, materials and manufacturing.

DataBank will use water-cooled rear door chilling units to support up to 100kW per cabinet. The server heat from the supercomputer is transferred to the chilled water, which reaches 90 degrees and is supplied to the building’s boilers for use in offices.

“This unique cooling system saves space and allows reuse of resources,” said Kevin Ooley, the CFO for DataBank. “Georgia Tech has truly pioneered a place to foster university talent, collaborative research and true innovation, all while keeping a ‘green’ initiative in mind.”

Cooling and Power Options

The ATL1 design incorporates several approaches to data halls. In addition to the rear-door cooling units on a slab floor, DataBank offers a standard raised floor with perimeter cooling using CRAC (computer room air conditioner) units for the Georgia Tech Office of Information Technology. The two systems use different supply water feeds, with the CRAC units receiving water at 52 degrees, while the read-door units use water at 60 to 70 degrees.

In addition, one area of the facility operates with full emergency backup power for the OIT’s storage area network, backed by a battery UPS and generator. Meanwhile, parts of the HPCC are supported with a flywheel system providing 30 seconds of runtime to shut down lower-priority batch jobs that can be restarted when grid power is restored.

The facility will also offer an architecture using concrete slab hot aisle containment.

DataBank may have additional power options from a planned 1.4-megawatt microgrid being readied by Georgia Power and Georgia Tech. The Tech Square Microgrid will begin operating this fall and will be used to evaluate how a microgrid can operate as part of the overall electrical grid.

The microgrid installation will include fuel cells, battery storage, diesel generators and a natural gas generator, but is designed to also accommodate microturbines, solar panels and electric vehicle chargers in the future.

“The Tech Square Microgrid project will give us a better understanding of the resiliency and sustainability of microgrids to help develop emerging energy solutions to better serve our customers now and in the future,” said Alan Goldin, project manager of the Georgia Tech microgrid for Georgia Power. “The microgrid will provide Georgia Power with insight on how smart energy management systems can interact with the grid to achieve optimal utilization of energy, while also providing teaching and learning opportunities for Georgia Tech professors and students.”

A ‘Living Laboratory’ for Sensors and Analytics

Georgia Tech said the microgrid it will serve as a “living laboratory” for Georgia Tech professors and students who will use the asset to gather data on controllers, cybersecurity devices and energy economics.

This type of data usage is part of the vision for smart cities that integrate information technology into the fabric of city life, using analytics and sensors to better manage cities and make urban life safer, more efficient and sustainable. It’s just one more expression of how next-generation technologies are remaking the American landscape. Smart cities are a key component of our digital future, bringing together the Internet of Things, BigData, artificial intelligence and self-driving cars to change the way we live and do business in major urban centers.

Where do data centers fit? They become part of mixed-use properties, which combine different types of tenants, which could include office, retail and business continuity space.

As we noted in our piece earlier this week on Next Tier Connect, there are several reasons why data center investors and developers prefer other models:

  • Many data center tenants prefer dedicated space and limited access to buildings, which is harder to accomplish in shared facilities.
  • Operators tend to focus on a particular type of data center model, making it easier for investors to value, and simplifies an exit when the company is prepared to sell.
  • This is one reason why capital providers may maintain separate platforms for “retail” colocation and wholesale data centers, for example.

Developing mixed-use models that work for data center developers and investors is part of the current conversation around edge computing and the deployment of 5G wireless, which will see its earliest deployments in cities.

One vision for smart cities is on the drawing board in Toronto, where Sidewalk Labs has been creating a development plan for a portion of the waterfront. DCD noticed that the plan includes a thermal grid that incorporates at least three primary types of clean energy sources: on-site and off-site building waste heat, on-site geothermal heat, and off-site wastewater heat recovery. The waste heat plan taps output from an existing “commercial data center” located at the site of the Equinix TR2 colocation facility.

It’s part of a larger vision to convert a waterfront district known as Quayside into a sensor-packed smart city.

About the Author

Rich Miller

I write about the places where the Internet lives, telling the story of data centers and the people who build them. I founded Data Center Knowledge, the data center industry's leading news site. Now I'm exploring the future of cloud computing at Data Center Frontier.

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