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Hardware IT

A Data Center That Looks Like a Mansion 101

1sockchuck writes "A luxury homebuilder in Minnesota wants to build a data center that looks like a mansion, allowing the commercial building to fit into a residential neighborhood. The 'community-based data center' designed for FiberPop features a stone facade and sloped roof with dormers, along with an underground data hall."
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A Data Center That Looks Like a Mansion

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  • by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:19PM (#38782321)
    But for crystal meth.
  • Has many of the most expensive homes in the state. Part of the city borders on Lake Minnetonka, which is a popular place for wealthy famous people to build their mansions. Now as more people are looking to live in that second-ring suburb, a lot of neighborhoods are popping up featuring McMansions like the one you see there. Should fit in well, though I'm not sure it would be that advantageous to the company to place themselves that far outside the city of Minneapolis, unless they expect the majority of their customers to be from the suburbs.
    • by CapOblivious2010 ( 1731402 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:23PM (#38782373)
      It seems like some of the most expensive land you can buy, so I'm not sure why they'd want to use it for a data center, which can be built pretty much anywhere (and which is generally not staffed by mansion-dwellers)
      • Perhaps they're surrounded by their prospective customers.

        • And the customers need easy physical access?

          All it needs is a fat pipe into the building and it could be located pretty much anywhere.
          • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @02:22PM (#38782873)

            You expect users to act rational? I'm pretty sure being able to go over and "see" your data is a selling point for some people. Helll, I had a boss who refused to get (heaps cheaper and more reliable) server housing instead of having the server located in our storage room because he was afraid to "lose control" of the data.

            People are not necessarily rational creatures. So yes, having "physical access", as limited if not nonexisting as it may actually be, might even be a reason.

          • Unless the customer wants to run fat pipes to all the residences in the wealthy neighborhoods. Bandwidth at a data center is dirt cheap, running miles of fiber, not so much.

      • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @02:14PM (#38782811)
        Most likely the builder doesn't really want to build a data center. Builders use all kinds of tactics like this to try and force the zoning board into granting them approval to build higher density developments than the board wants. This looks like "we'll build one big honking building that you have to approve because of a loophole we found, and a bunch of smaller houses that you denied earlier because the lots were too small".

        I saw a similar move a few years ago where the builder tried to force approval of a mobile home park with a "corrective amendment" in a township that required a 2 acre minimum lot size because he really wanted to put up tract homes and a small sewage treatment plant that nobody trusted would be operated correctly. That attempt failed because the township didn't exclude mobile homes (there were actually a fair number of mobile homes in the largely rural township where the 2 acre minimum was needed for proper on-site septic systems). But it was a long and expensive fight.

        • Bingo. Or the owner just wants to have his mansion be a tax write off.

          • by icebike ( 68054 ) *

            Bingo. Or the owner just wants to have his mansion be a tax write off.

            And the wine cellar potential of that underground data center won't hurt the resale value a bit when the data center goes belly up. The picture in the linked shows a pretty dis-joint structure. Perfect for conversion into a tri-plex.

            The whole thing seems like a ploy to me.

      • by Kagato ( 116051 )

        I know the area. There's no reason to build out there. The land is just as expensive as downtown Minneapolis, and there's almost no one to peer with for upstream connections. And it's not like Minnetonka is all that far from Minneapolis. Seems like a good way to lose money on a datacenter.

    • by flyneye ( 84093 )

      Seems to me, the tourist on the ball could lay in wait with binoculars to see Minnesota resident and wildlife ,Prince, bring his women to purify themseves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, as per the movie "Purple Rain".

  • Real reason (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:21PM (#38782345)

    Easier for the techs to get pizza delivery.

  • This data center with 60 parking spaces better be close to a highway or else traffic getting there will bother the neighbors.

    • Re:60 cars (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tunapez ( 1161697 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:28PM (#38782425)
      Parking, deliveries, getting a fat pipe into the hood... I realize local guvs are hard-up for cash, but I doubt any residential zoning permits will be issued to build in the 1st place.There's plenty of commercial available these days, there you can make your DC look like a flying saucer or a sandcrawler if you like.
    • also big trucks may be a issues as well + local residential roads are not really build for heavy use and they don't get snow plowed as fast as the main roads.

    • ... 60 parking spaces ...

      3 parking spaces for the local staff.

      0 parking spaces for the outsourced remote staff in India, China, etc.

    • This is why we have zoning - to protect residential neighborhoods. It makes absolutely no difference whether a commercial or industrial building looks like a "mansion," it should not be allowed in a residential zone, period. Electricity usage, the necessary data lines, traffic and parking are all legitimate considerations.
    • Or the neighbors could work at the data center... not to get all pipe-dreamy but I live in an area that was built partly to provide housing for employees of a GE manufacturing plant. It wasn't a company town; these were single family residences marketed very heavily to GE employees who worked less than a mile away. Imagine living nearby and walking or bicycling to work -- now you don't have to commute out of the neighborhood and someone else doesn't have to commute in.
  • by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:22PM (#38782365)

    In particular, will the neighbors enjoy the continuous howling of the AC fans?

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:37PM (#38782503)

      In particular, will the neighbors enjoy the continuous howling of the AC fans?

      That and the dual 1 megawatt diesel generators, which are test run once a week for an hour during 3rd shift, mostly to keep 3rd shift awake... They're a little bit quieter than a locomotive at full throttle, but not much.

      Another important point is this is only a couple hundred miles from my home, and unless things are wildly different there than here, the "urban skyscraper area", hospital, police dept, etc are snowplowed out every 30 minutes during storms, but residential? Eh, maybe an hour or two after the storm ends, they'll think of plowing it out. So they have no access in or out of the building during a snow storm. Whoops.

      Finally all the DCs I've worked with/at had underground feeders. No big deal in the urban area or farmland, but in McMansion-ville you're going to seriously annoy the neighbors constantly digging up their rosebushes.

      Of course, they are probably not installing a "real" data center, because a FTTH provider does not require one, my guess is they're probably installing a single rack (or less) of gear as part of some tax or zoning or building code dodge. Maybe zoning doesn't allow a sales office, tech center, or warehouse, but they Really Want one, so they'll install a "data center" instead which happens to coincidentally have a sales dept, warehouse. tech dispatch center, etc, located in the same building.

      • Snow? (Score:1, Troll)

        by rossdee ( 243626 )

        "So they have no access in or out of the building during a snow storm. Whoops."

        Global warming will take care of that. We have hardly had more than a couple of inches so far this winter. (I live a couple hundred miles up I94 from the cities.)

        • by Xugumad ( 39311 )

          Global warming will take a long time to make winters consistently mild. Keep in mind, for example, that the west coast just got snowed senseless.

      • they need a cable head end or what even fios uses for there TV part.

      • by Matheus ( 586080 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @03:05PM (#38783245) Homepage

        A few points:
        1) You say you live a couple hundred miles away from Minnetonka. That places you exactly no where that is even slightly resemblent of this area so I wouldn't use your personal local experience as a good reference.
        2) The suburbs around the Twin Cities (especially the rich ones like Minnetonka) are plowed significantly better than the core. Faster, better plowing/QOS. We haven't had much snow this year at all but last year when we were buried the cores basically shut down because they had no where to put the snow and because the urban street parking gets in the way of fully clearing the roads. Also, this being a large enough private parcel, they will have no problem getting their property cleared privately for much less cost than you might think (especially if they find some cost effective way to use the plowed snow for cooling)
        3) This is not being built in the middle of a bunch of McMansions... this is former, not yet developed, farm land (Minnetonka's about as close to the downtowns as you can get and still find that). A large part of Minnetonka is not the extremely expensive lake-living property. The real estate market is also terrible still (although recovering a bit) so the previous plans to develop this land probably fell apart. No one is financing new subdivisions because they can't sell the properties they've already built. This is a developer who had already purchased the land finding a new way to make use of it. Noise and traffic are not non-issues but when the developer owns all the land surrounding the place he can control a lot about who cares. TFA mentions the reduced density the land will have probably including significant distancing to reduce sound issues.
        4) Although there is some merit to the scams theories popping up, they really are close to their target audience. Aside from the FTTH service that would probably be a small part of the new business, The outer tier suburbs have really exploded in terms of tech offices. We have a larger technical base out-city, especially around Minnetonka/Excelcior/Eden Prairie, than downtown has. The money out there is HUGE and they are being smart finding themselves close to their customers corporate AND residential.

        Just sayin...

        • The core cities were in no way "shut down" during or after any storm last year. Frankly, I was amazed how well the city crews did given the parking challenges they face that suburban municipalities generally don't. I live in Minneapolis very close to downtown. We were fully functional throughout the winter.

          Minnetonka is a big city, geographically. While you're right that not all of it is super-wealthy, almost all of it is wealthy. And while the eastern border is about a 20 minute drive from Minneapolis

  • Hmmm .. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:23PM (#38782379)

    A commercial building is still a commercial building whether it looks like an office block, a play ground, a mansion or a church. As far as I know zoning laws restrict usage based on usage and not looks. And I'd imagine that the local residents (in their high priced gated community) wouldn't like strangers running in and out to service this business.

    • Re:Hmmm .. (Score:4, Informative)

      by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Monday January 23, 2012 @02:03AM (#38788573) Journal

      Yes, use rather than looks, but there are ways to game the system...

      I almost bought a (gorgeous!) pair of 1920's bungalow set in a history-steeped downtown, small-town America. There was over 3,000 feet of living space, enormous basements, riverfront access to a gorgeous river, etc.

      But there were some caveats: because it was downtown, it was zoned for light commercial use, which meant that although you could live there, you had to have a "primary presence" of a commercial space. So where the front room would be, there was a clothing shop, with a sign, and posted hours: "open by appointment only" that nobody ever went into and hadn't been looked at in years.

      After thinking about it (and the culture of the very small town, not nearly as intellectual as I'm used to) I decided not to buy. Of course, history is the best judge; had I bought the place I would likely have a net worth far greater than I do now, since the city bought the property under imminent domain and the owner made a small fortune on it.

      I guess I just wanted to say that properties are frequently not what they seem. For giggles, take a Google tour of some of the stealth oil wells in the Los Angeles area.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What's the advantage of putting a data center in a residential neighbourhood?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tunapez ( 1161697 )
      None. It's only function is to get a half-baked idea posted on /.
    • Agreed. It seems to be more of a solution that doesn't understand the needs. Most data centers are built in places that offer cheap land, cheap power, security, etc. Making a data center look attractive to suburbia doesn't solve that problem as most surburban neighborhoods don't offer that even if they would accept one. Also data centers are always looking for ways to make their construction cheaper (like Google using lake water or ambient air to cool their centers) than making them look better.
      • Also data centers are always looking for ways to make their construction cheaper (like Google using lake water or ambient air to cool their centers) than making them look better.

        Those are running costs, not construction costs.

        • Using these options means Google does not have to use all A/C to cool their servers. That means they don't have install as many or as powerful A/C units for some cost savings.
          • But the goal isn't to reduce construction costs - and in fact they don't mind increasing them. The goal is to reduce the running costs.

            • The goal to reduce all costs. In terms of priority, more emphasis should be given on running costs as they are more in the longer scheme of things. However Google or whoever isn't going to spend more on constructing a data center than they have to especially when the additional cost provides no real benefit.
          • So.. waterfront land costs the same as a typical industrial block where you are from?

            While they may save money on purchasing AC units, they can expend far more on other factors because of those choices, the real savings are in running costs.

  • The increased traffic, the exhaust fan noise (which could be mitigated), and when the power goes out the sound and smell of those diesel gennies will add ambiance to the surrounding environs. Hell, even a weekly generator would be bad enough.
    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      Meant to say weekly generator test. Damnint /. give me a way to edit post facto.
    • They can use natural gas generators. It will raise the price but it doesn't sound like they're overly concerned about cost. Muffling them is also just a matter of spending more money on more mufflers.

    • by PNutts ( 199112 )
      I wouldn't mind the generater noise if they gave me a tap into it. Power goes out, my lights stay on. And I agree with an earlier post. Having grown up in the Midwest, the summer the lawnmowing starts early and ends late. Leaf blowers and edgers are the worst. Then the winter snow-blowers. I know... First world problems.
  • looks like someone wants to build a mansion and write it off as a business expense.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:39PM (#38782523)

    I'm building a mansion that looks like a data center.

  • they plan to build a mansion with underground facility in Raccoon City Minnesota.

    this will not end well.
  • by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:48PM (#38782605)
    Hidden cell phone towers and data centers are weird enough, but how many of you have heard of the working oil fields underneath Los Angeles?

    This video [huffingtonpost.com] at the Huffington Post is the best explanation I can find offhand, but there are pictures and documentaries all over if you look for them.
  • by tqk ( 413719 ) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Sunday January 22, 2012 @01:56PM (#38782671)

    You should see the firehalls they're building in new communities here. They look just like a house, except firetrucks roll out of the garage periodically.

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...

  • Let me guess, the garage will have a turntable and the cars will come out of a gate of street signs. Will they call this thing the Batcave or Wayne Manor?

  • residential power grid is not setup for big draws. Even all the house on one block can blow a transformer by all of them doing a over the top Christmas Lights display.

    and dual grid is not likely in most residential areas.

  • with an underground data hall

    Yep, lock up those geeks in the basement again, they're used to it.

  • There's some precedent for this in telephony. I've photographed a couple of old Cincinnati Bell central offices in residential neighborhoods in Cincinnati. They were built to match the architecture and landscaping of the houses around them. If you're not looking for them it's easy to mistake them for plain old houses.
  • I still don't see the point of this - while I'm sure land is cheaper there than in a city, unless it's located unusually close to some major telecommunications lines, they're going to have to pay for trenching in connectivity over multiple physical paths.

    The only reason I can think of for locating a datacenter in a luxury neighborhood is to house the security camera DVRs and other security equipment for those homes, but that hardly seems like it will support a datacenter.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Instead of trying to build a data center that is equipped to be placed in the suburbs where each family occupies huge plots of land, what about thinking about the future? How about integrating data centers with public utility infrastructure? What about data Centers co-located with dense residential areas? Or warehouses? Or perhaps even integrating data centers with natural locations where they would benefit the environment around them. Or making them as containers that could be shipped to a warehouse where

  • This would be a great cover for a grow house.

    Power company / police: "Why is your power consumption so high?"
    Owner: "I'm running a data center."
    • by swb ( 14022 )

      All the data centers I've ever been to have insane security. IIRC, the last one I worked in the tenant said that they had to apply to get badges and that anyone who needed a badge to get to their cage had to pass some kind of (trivial, I'm sure) "background check" and ID verification.

      I'm guessing that between the security checks to keep out the nosy, the high electric usage that would be easy to explain, a grow operation would be easy to get away with.

      You'd have to have the right kind of building, though.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 22, 2012 @03:06PM (#38783251)

    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=15545+Ranchview+Court+minnetonka+mn&ll=44.973056,-93.474383&spn=0.02365,0.039353&hnear=15545+Ranchview+Ct,+Minnetonka,+Hennepin,+Minnesota+55391&gl=us&t=h&z=15&vpsrc=6 [google.com]

    After a bit of googleing seems to be where they plan to put it. This is not the prime area of Minnetonka, just north of a highway, no lake, behind some car dealerships, and on a swamp. It is also only about 1/2 mile from a middle school. You need to go about two mile southwest from there for the major homes or the west side of lake Minnetonka.

    As for the fan and generator noise, probably quieter than the 2 major highways (I394 & I494) right near there same for the generators(especially if steps are taken to minimize the sound of both). I'd bet ambient daytime sound levels are rather high there.

    Fun facts, I drive within 0.25 miles of this site everyday on my way to work, I work in the same building as the architect in question, and work for a company that makes HVAC units for datacenters among other uses.

  • His name doesn't happen to be Bruce by any chance...

  • it would be cheaper since they are plentiful and empty

  • Does 'Community-Based' mean I can have free colo if I live in the neighborhood?

  • Will fit right in except for the driveway with 13 Smart cars, 11 Prius, and 17 BMWs.
  • DC's are supposed to have redundant power lines in or at the least a highly reliable power source. It's unlikely that the residential customers would be on the same primary power lines. Which is both bad and good. Good because the homeowners wouldn't get browned out by the DC, bad because in the case of a bad storm there's no incentive for the power company to reestablish power to the homes as quickly as the DC. So in the case of a bad mid winter storm the blacked out homes in the cold can look out their wi

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
    I was thinking about building a mansion that looks like a data center. Maybe they could put them next to each other?
  • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Sunday January 22, 2012 @04:48PM (#38784231) Homepage Journal

    If you go to Plano (suburb of Dallas, Texas), there are tens, if not a hundred buildings scattered all over the city that look like houses, with roofs, centrally located doors (like houses), manicured "lawns" and even a tree in the "front yard". They typically occupy less than a quarter acre and only have parking for one or two cars (particularly Verizon trucks).
    They have no windows.
    Typically 1,000 sq feet or so they look like a small house, or a detached garage (rare in the area) and have brick exteriors (matches the houses in the area) with roof overhangs. No two are exactly alike, but they're generally near the entrance.
    So yes, it's not uncommon to see telecommunications buildings (I guess mansions would be the next logical step) in neighborhoods disguised as "houses". They're easy to pick out if you know to look for them. I'm sure other cities have them too (particularly in the DFW area).

  • If you build luxury houses and own tracks of (now nearly worthless) residential land on the outskirts of large cities, why not see if you can market to a new segment? I think they're getting in over their heads, as they're not used to dealing with the cooling and power supplies such a facilities often require, but it's still a cute idea from a marketing perspective.

  • Not interested. I want a mansion that looks like a proper data center.

  • ..."underground data hall."
  • I want to see them put a datacenter in one of the endless expanse of factories downtown with all the busted out windows. Seriously though, It does look like an interesting idea. I wonder how they will hide the backup generators, and what will they have to rip up to run all that cable? At least they will have to employee more engineers to figure it all out...
  • I knew someone would eventually try to build Matthew Sobol's house. The question is, will this datacenter mansion be guarded by an AutoM8 and sprinkler system that sprays accelerant?

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.