“Feel the little vent on the side of your laptop. It’s warm, right?” Neil Sheehan, principal of Sheehan Partners, Ltd., is describing to me the particulars of a recently completed project--a Facebook data centre in Prineville, Oregon. “Now, imagine stacking 42 of those that are far more powerful, one on top of the other; that would be a cabinet. 28 cabinets make up one row, with a total of 56 rows. Then double all that--because it’s just one side of the building. Now double that again because it goes lengthwise as well.” Data centres are an architectural speciality, high-security hubs where incredible amounts of energy are constantly coming and going. “You’ve got to get lots and lots of power very reliably to all the equipment, then find a way to get rid of all that heat,” Sheehan explains.
In collaboration with Facebook engineers and Altatech, the firm created what is essentially a massive vessel designed to keep all that machinery happy at a constant 72-degrees. “Ideally you’d put all those servers out in a big field and let the wind blow around so you wouldn’t have to cool them at all,” Sheehan says. “This is essentially a secure building wrapped around those computers acting like that big field.” In a super-simplified version of its inner-workings, outside air is drawn in from the west, down through the floor into the 164,000-sq ft computer room where fans pull it up and through a set of holes above, so the hot air is isolated form the incoming cold air. Along that path, misters blow fine moisture into the air stream that as a humidifying and cooling effect.