Yahoo offers ‘chicken coop’ data centre design

Yahoo's distinctive design resembles foul-rearing sheds. (Image: IDGNS)

19 June 2017

Verizon has closed on the purchase of search engine pioneer Yahoo, thus ending the independent run of one of the original internet firms that launched in the early 1990s and the reign of error of Marissa Meyer. But the company is still having a fire sale of its patent portfolio, and one of them is a unique data centre design.

The company announced in 2009 an unusual data centre design in Lockport, New York. The building was shaped like a chicken coop and would use outside air for cooling with a flywheel-based energy storage system, and it would have an annualised Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of under 1.1, which was better than what Google was reporting for its data centres at the time.

The patents for the design, known as Yahoo Computing Coop data centre, are part of a larger fire sale of patents Yahoo has amassed over the years. All told, Yahoo hopes to rake in around $1 billion (€893 million) for the sale of 2,500 patents.

In addition, a Yahoo spokeswoman told Dow Jones the company is offering a smaller group of patents—500 US patents and over 600 pending applications—as part of the auction of its core Web business.

One reason it is able to sell these patents is Verizon did not bid on everything Yahoo owned. So, it is able to sell off non-core assets, which is what Verizon wanted. Non-core assets for sale include social networking, messaging, mobile, video and data centre cooling patents and patent applications.

According to Data Centre Knowledge, Yahoo plans to structure any potential transaction so that it can license the designs from the buyer, thus continue using them. The Yahoo Computing Coop is one such patent it plans to keep using. It already has four data centres using that design.

How it works
The Yahoo Computing Coop design maximises use of outside air for cooling and supplements it with evaporative cooling when necessary. Lockport, New York, is not far from Buffalo, with its legendary winters, so the building has plenty of natural cooling on which to draw. Cold air enters the building through louvres on one of the walls and fills a plenum, where it is brought to appropriate temperature and humidity.

The design uses fans to direct cool air through the servers and into a central “chimney,” through which warm air travels upward by natural convection into the penthouse that gives the building its chicken-coop look. Once at the top, the air is either absorbed for recirculation or pushed outside.

Chatsworth echoes
This design puts on in mind of  the cabinets from Chatsworth Systems, one of the unsung vendors in the data centre when it comes to unique design. Rather than blowing hot air out the back of the cabinet in the usual hot aisle/cold aisle design, its cabinets use convection to suck in cold air at the bottom of the cabinet and send hot air up and out a chimney at the top, which can then go into an air conditioning vent.

The result is rows of all cold aisles and considerable efficiency. SoftLayer, long before IBM bought it, was a data centre host called The Planet. It used the Chatsworth cabinets, and it had a PUE of 1.25 back in 2008, which was very impressive at the time—and still is. The head of operations told me at the time that PUE was thanks to using the Chatsworth cabinets. The concept uses physics, not electricity, to achieve cooling, whether it’s in a cabinet or a whole data centre.

Yahoo did the world a huge service when it turned over Hadoop, its own internal project, to the Apache Foundation. It could have kept it as a competitive edge but did not, mostly because it was built on Google’s MapReduce, after all.

It would be a shame to see Alphabet, Microsoft or Rackspace grab these available patents and keep the coop design to itself. Every data centre design should have the opportunity to make use of Yahoo’s creation. But they’re Yahoo’s patents to sell, and if one company is going to grab them and keep the secret sauce for itself, that’s how the chips fall.


IDG News Service

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