Hong Kong Creating Underground Data Centre Environment

Mar 28, 2013

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In Hong Kong, it appears as though they are preparing to take their data centres underground. It has nothing to do with China by the way, nor is it an effort to achieve any sinister plans in one of the Orient's most technologically advanced cities. Rather, moving data centres to underground facilities is a way to take advantage of what Hong Kong naturally has to offer in the midst of a dwindling real estate supply. According to Hilary Cordells, a Hong Kong real estate law firm partner, plans to create new underground data centres are already in motion. Cordells revealed the plans in a recent speech at the Datacentre Space Asia Conference. She said the government is already engaging in creating rock caverns that would be ideal for a number of purposes, including housing data centres. The main advantage of an underground data centre is one of security. The further one goes underground, the more difficult a facility is to physically penetrate. It's also deemed much safer in the event of military conflict. In terms of power and cooling needs, solutions already exist thanks to technologies developed during the Cold War. According to Cordells, some of the legal issues of property ownership still have to be worked out. She told the assembled audience that Hong Kong property owners technically own everything underground, to the centre of the earth, which would include any caverns constructed beneath their land. One possible solution would be to create a legal framework that would divide subterranean areas into different levels of ownership. Another possible solution would see data centre companies own the infrastructure and facilities but rent the cavern space from a landowner via a traditional lease agreement. Whatever the arrangement, it's likely the courts in Hong Kong will be tied up with these questions for years. From the perspective of the data centre owner, there are other problems as well. First of all, construction will be much more expensive as will management and maintenance. There will be issues to deal with including the location of water tables, routing and re-routing the existing civil infrastructure, and dealing with waste materials produced underground.

Other Possible Options

While underground data centres certainly are an intriguing idea, there do not seem to be enough advantages to outweigh the disadvantages. In fact, one must wonder whether there are other options in Hong Kong that could be explored. The problem with the city is that there is nowhere else to build but up or down. The lack of available real estate means lateral construction is certainly out of the question. It is true that the earth underneath the surface of the city is very stable and well suited for underground construction. In the absence of any other options it seems that going underground is an acceptable strategy to pursue. However, if other options exist — options like offshore platforms and re-purposing existing buildings — it would be prudent to take a serious look at them first.