German underground bunker refitted as low-oxygen, low-staff nuclear-proof data centre
Thu 29 Jan 2015
A German company has repurposed a nuclear bunker from the 1960s as a data centre. IT Vision Technology (ITVT Group) has spent two years adapting the Erwin bunker in Germany’s Börfink municipality into a secured facility 98 miles from the international network hub at Frankfurt. The technological core of the new Erwin bunker has been designed to run autonomously, and outside of maintenance times the servers deep beneath the earth will operate in a low-oxygen environment to reduce the risk of fire.
ITVT CEO Jochen Klipfel told Volksfreund [German language] that the underground server rooms have been especially constructed against the possibility of fire. Noting that the remote location of Erwin makes the response time of the Bundeswehr-Feuerwehr fire-fighting force an impractical contingency to any potential incident, Klipfel said: “We developed a solution that reduces the oxygen content in the air, so that even matches go out…It took us two years,”
The 2.3 megawatt plant, which eschews reliance on Germany’s power grid in favour of a photovoltaic roof working in concert with wind-generating power plants and local biodiesel fuel, has been constructed in the old energy bunker of the Erwin complex, since the primary ‘Bunker 1’ would have been too difficult to adapt against fire-risk.
The bunker – originally known as ‘Command Bunker Erwin’, and not entirely evacuated until 2002 – took three years to build, and was intended to house 250 soldiers, but in its working life accomodated training exercises involving up to 750 troops. The increased scope of the building explains why it was extended so many times, ultimately arriving at its pre-ITVT footprint of just under 74,000 square feet. The exterior walls stand at a thickness of 11 feet (3.5 metres), and the central complex is buried 20 feet (6 metres) below ground. The original generator system used heat exchangers, rendering the etablishment invisible to thermal imaging cameras.
Construction at the new facility was hampered by the lack of any digital documents outlining the underground bunker. The primary document available was a printed manual from the time of the bunker’s construction, covering a daunting 15,000 typewritten pages. “Without the help of a knowledgeable local [former worker] we would never have reached our goal,” Klipfel says.
Despite the enormous size of the plant, only 15 people will be required to administrate the Erwin Bunker data centre, mostly situated in new out-buildings. Börfink mayor Martin Döscher declared the new installation ‘a win’ for the municipality, which has a registered population of just 186 people (as of the last census taken in 2008).
ITVT has invested 3.5mn euros (£2.6mn) in the underground data centre, and is considering further plans to develop the surrounding region, with walking or biking routes, parking space and catering operations all under consideration. Heat generated by the equipment at Erwin will be stored and distributed locally, to the benefit of the small community as well as on-site technicians and visitors.
The extra security afforded by placing a grid-free data centre in a nuclear-proof building is not necessarily mere opportunism; ITVT, which is headquartered in Leonberg near Stuttgart (with subsidiary locations in Cologne and Hamburg, among others) retains NATO air forces among its customer base.
The plant, which has been connected to the network grid since the 31st of December last year, has been created to run in maintenance-free ‘island mode’ as necessary, with minimal dependency on the outside world.