Building Clouds Inside a Swiss Mountain
Managed service providers are embracing cloud technologies either through leaps and bounds or with one foot dragging. Few, however, are finding cloud success 300 meters deep in the side of a mountain.
Radix Technologies is the exception to that rule. The global services provider, which is headquartered in Budapest, Hungary, has built a data center in a former military bunker built into a mountain in the Swiss countryside outside Altdorf. The idea is simple: House a data center in an almost impenetrable natural fortress with unparalleled security (ever tried to open a 20-ton door?), take advantage of the mountain air and natural water flow for cooling, and you’ve got a real story to tell.
The Map Room and Beyond
The 15,000 square-foot facility (give or take) was constructed before the second World War and consists of three bunkers each with three levels. It once housed a Jeep Willy factory during World War II and later served as a command center for the Swiss Army and Navy. It even still has the map room (pictured) with floor-to-ceiling moveable maps, where one can only imagine the Swiss Army’s various plots to take over the world. (Or maybe not.) It was decommissioned sometime within the last 10 years — the exact date was not provided for security reasons — and in 2007 Datalis, the owner of the facility and a partner of Radix, purchased the bunker from the Swiss government.
Over the past two years, Radix has been building out the data center space, which will total about 8,000 square feet. So far one data room has been put into commission, which is currently about half full — about 12 racks are being used.
Radix targets large enterprises that are making a transition to the cloud, and uses CA Technologies’ (NASDAQ: CA) AppLogic cloud platform as its solution. Because the technology is vendor-agnostic and can be used for private, public or hybrid clouds, it’s a good choice for companies making the transition but don’t want to or can’t move their data center outside of their facility or don’t know how to run their IT infrastructure as a cloud, said David Corriveau, Radix CEO. “We come in and do it for them on their premises,” he said.
But back to the bunker, as it were. It’s cold, which is good for a data center. And it’s equipped with redundant power supplies — two monstrous diesel generators are at the ready should the regular public power grid go down. Plus, Datalis is making plans to bring in a second line from the public power grid — this one coming from a different direction than the first — to make its power even more redundant.
Wall Murals and More
What’s more, the location is only about 1 kilometer from one of the main European backbones, over which 75 percent of Europe’s north/south Internet traffic runs. Which means connectivity is not an issue.
The site has two aquifers fed by a natural spring, which serves as the only cooling source throughout the facility. And it works pretty well (see my “it’s cold” comment two paragraphs above). No doubt, this place has the data center trifecta: plenty of power, great connectivity and eco-friendly cooling.
And because it once served as command centers for two military branches, it also has some interesting features:
- five bar areas (go Swiss!)
- wood paneling-lined dormitories for the soldiers stationed there (the wood was installed to give the place a less dungeon-like feel, we learned on the tour)
- a full kitchen space (the floor mixer is still sitting at the ready)
- kitschy wall murals in strategic locations (again, to help eliminate the ‘I’m stuck in a bunker in the side of a mountain’ feeling); and
- the aforementioned map room.
About the only things I didn’t see that I fully expected to were a swimming pool (hey, they’ve got the water) and a gymnasium. But that’s not to say the facility doesn’t have those amenities.
On to the Data Center
With such a large space, you’d expect there to be an army of folks keeping it running. But not so — the facility has only three full-time people to maintain it. No IT folks, just caretakers. The infrastructure is actually maintained in Radix’s Budapest location.
The data center location is impressive by its sheer size and, admittedly, the history of the place. And after seeing all the nifty features in the bunker, I must admit I expected the data center to be in equally impressive surroundings. Sadly, however, the data room looked just like … a data room. A bit of a letdown, but I suppose not everything can be as glamorous as the map room.
But as data centers go, this one takes the cake as the most interesting. And Radix has the unique distinction of telling its customers it’s building clouds inside a mountain.