From parking garage to data center

A plan is being floated to convert an underground parking garage into a data center into downtown Chicago.

To continue with the theme that odd spaces make for today’s data centers, it appears that an underground parking garage could become Chicago’s next data center. That’s right, an investment group that took over four underground garages in the East Loop in Chicago’s central business district, pitched to city officials the idea of converting the garages into a data center. The news was reported here in the Chicago Sun Times.

Just recently, I blogged here about the Altamonte Springs, Fla., city government relocating its data center into a decommissioned water tank. Then I wrote this about how the Lincoln Board of Education in Nebraska plans to renovate a boiler room in the city’s old Lincoln High School so it could house the district’s data center.

See? So a data center housed in parking garage seems less far-fetched now, doesn’t it?

According to the Chicago Sun Times article, the garages contain more than 9,000 spaces that are only used heavily during special events along Chicago’s lakefront and thus are proving as profitable. So the investors, Morgan Stanley and Chicago Loop Parking LLC – which own a 99-year-lease on the space – are looking for a better return on their investment. According to the article, the plan calls for a data center to be housed in the garage facilities south of Randolph Street and east of Columbus Drive, and that the plan is for a data center to take up only about 400 parking spaces in that particular garage (which has 3,200 spaces and is currently closed for renovation).

It’s probably important to note that the plans are merely conceptual at this point. It’s also important to note that at least one potential customer – Grubb & Ellis Co., a broker that represents users of data centers – raised concerns about whether the plan was feasible or cost-effective, the article states. That’s because to repurpose a parking garage into a data center facility would require significant build.

I’m no expert, but housing a data center underground near a massive lake doesn’t seem all that ideal to me either. Does anyone remember the underground flood of Chicago in April 1992? According to Wikipedia, the flood occurred when the damaged wall of a utility tunnel beneath the Chicago River opened into a breach which flooded basements and underground facilities throughout the Chicago Loop with an estimated 250 million gallons of water. Cleanup and repairs cost the city an estimated $1.95 billion.

Of course, that doesn’t mean underground data centers are out of the question. Consider the Pionen Data Center in Stockholm, Sweden. According to this http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/01/ff_caverns_safeguard/ article in Wired, the data center is buried in a former military bunker and nuclear shelter under Stockholm’s city streets. The data center, which holds WikiLeaks secrets, is said to be able to withstand a nuclear impact. It also has 2-foot-thick armored door and two German V12 diesel submarine engines on standby for backup power. It may be seriously secure, but I’m guessing it wasn’t seriously cheap to fix up that bunker into a 21st century data center.

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