What reasons would you give for locating data centre in the basement instead of a upper floors?

closed as off topic by Iain Apr 17 '12 at 8:22

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15 Answers 15


Weight isn't necessarily an issue. I'm working in a building with a large datacenter about 1/3 of the way up and across the street from a building with a medium sized datacenter about 11 stories up. I've been in datacenters in pole buildings, bunkers, high-rises, etc. Given a facility and some money, all things are possible.

The issue totally depends on the building though, and you need to talk to the landlord, building manager or building engineer about that. If I was making a decision about this, I'd hire someone with a clue to defer it to. Barring that, here's what I'd be thinking about:

  • Elevator access - does the service elevator have sufficient clearance to bring in outsized stuff. Is there a service elevator?
  • HVAC - is there sufficient cooling or sufficient ability to bring in more cooling?
  • Power - same as above
  • Floor load - will that fancy new SAN cause the cantilevered floor to start bouncing up and down?
  • Sump pumps - if you're putting your business in the basement, do you need sump pumps? Are they big enough? Do they have backup?
  • Access to loading dock - Is the elevator/basement door accessible to the loading dock? You are going to hate life if you need to unpack pallets and reassemble them to get to the elevator
  • Length of the lease - If you have 5 years left and intend to move, do you want to invest in all sorts of improvements?

There are no general answers that will lead to you making an intelligent yes or no decision. You need to study the site and make an appropriate decision based upon the building, your budget and other factors. You may even find that it is more cost effective to buy datacenter space from a colo rather than build out the space.

  • Nonconcur with the idea that weight is not an issue. While there are many other factors that can have varying levels of difficulty to engineer around, a high density data center definitely has weight issues in upper floors. – Brennan Apr 17 '12 at 0:02

Point against: Flood risk!

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    we used to have a datacentre on the 7th floor. Had to go to contingency when a pipe burst on the 9th. – PaulPlum Aug 17 '09 at 9:57

Basements are the first place that will flood in the event of a leak, fire, etc. Also basements are only cool because they are insulated. If you stick hot equipment in there then it makes it harder to cool than on an above ground floor.

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    However, in case of a fire, the fire will go upwards, not downwards to the basement. So the server won't be damaged by the fire unless the fire started in the basement. It will be damaged by the water that's used to kill the fire, though. But water damage is easier to fix than fire damage. (Put the servers high up in a rack and make sure the basement has a good drainage system in case of floods. Or another basement level below the server basement.) – Wim ten Brink Aug 17 '09 at 10:30
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    depends on the flooding, water that's contaminated with sewage or mud is really not easy to repair at all. – gbjbaanb Aug 17 '09 at 12:07

Half in the basement, half on the top floor.

The basement ones are out of the way, near incoming power systems but can get flooded. The top floor ones won't get flooded and are right on below the air-con systems (in fact you may be able to simply vent the hot air, saving loads of cash) but could be caught up in rising fires.

If you split your systems smartly you can manage the weight load and also provide a 'free' half-way house to a 'second-site'/DR solution whilst only taking up half of the space per floor you normally would.

Plus of course all IT people would need priority lift permissions at all times - which could come in handy :)

  • Weight: One Server may not weigh much, but an entire datacenter would create some interesting architectureal challenges, especially if it's an already existing building that you can't change. (Obviously when building a new data center you can take that into consideration from the beginning)
  • Air Flow: Warm Air floats to the top, generally the basement is cooler. Not sure if that is really a big point with modern A/C
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    Depending on the building weight can be a big issue. One company I was at we had to check with the building engineer every time we did a major system upgrade (IBM tape array, SAN disk array, etc) to ensure the floor would be ok. We were on the 8th floor I think. Dump thing was we also had the first floor, but put the data center up in the air. It's SoCal so there is no basement. – mrdenny Aug 17 '09 at 20:49

I suspect Workshop Alex was attempting humour but missed the target. Nevertheless, there is some truth in what he/she said. Upper floors are generally considered prime real estate. The basement is more of a utility area. To my way of thinking the server room needs to be utilitarian. It should also not need human presence very often (if it's well managed). Why not put it in the basement and use the upper floors for the humans? From a purely practical viewpoint, there are probably an equal number of pros and cons. If I had my choice the server room would be on the ground floor, simply because I don't like having to move heavy gear any further than I have to.

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    Some companies like the "glass house" datacenter model, so execs can show investors and other execs the cool purple lights, etc. – duffbeer703 Aug 18 '09 at 0:00
  • Reminds me of the last level of "Mirror's Edge" . Which idiot would put the servers in the penthouse of the tallest building in the city? Silly and unbelievable :-) – Chris Huang-Leaver Aug 19 '09 at 10:22

Weight. It won't be an issue for a single rack normally, but if you get many servers, batteries etc., it might be too heavy for upper floors.


None. Flooding. Bottom/street/ground floor ("first floor" in some nations ;) would seem like the best recommendation as normally you'd want them in a one-story building above ground.

As for leaks from above, the rooms should simply be designed around that with good draining... in the basement however there's not always any good way to do that with enough oompf.


I would say None. Use a dedicated hosting location and make use of high speed fiber connected (10g or better). Office buildings are great for people, less good for datacenters, and horrid for disaster recovery.

  • That assumes such an option is even available. While it may be for you it is not for everyone. – John Gardeniers Aug 17 '09 at 22:34

Always in the middle... both vertically and horizontally...

Avoid the top floor, ceilings leak Avoid the bottom floor/basement, too easy of access (broken window) and/or flooding.

presumably they have a freight elevator, so loading servers wont be an issue

you might try not-too-far from the external A/C units, which may reside on the ground, on the top, or sometimes in the middle if the building is tall enough.

Farther distance to the A/C unit will cost you in some way, but I suspect it's negligible.

  • "presumably they have a freight elevator". On what basis can you make such a presumption? No, not every building has one. – John Gardeniers Aug 17 '09 at 22:35
  • please forgive, I was thinking more than 5 floors... you are correct... The problem I most frequently ran into was not having a loading doc. – ericslaw Aug 18 '09 at 20:30

How about cosmetics? A server room is used by machines. And machines don't need the view from the windows. Have the servers high up and you'll end up with bored employees in the basement. Put the server in the basement and the employees will have a nicer view to the parking lot or an even higher view.


I would argue that closer to the top may be an advantage but that depends mostly on the AC design. On the shady side of the building too. My reasoning is that a big cost that most IT people do not sign off on is the electricity to run the AC unit. If you put the datacentre on the ground and the compressor needs to pump to the 8th floor rooftop then you will need a much bigger AC unit to handle the distance of pipe. That will make it more expensive to buy, install, run and maintain. Also you don't need your server on the sunny side of the building adding to the size of AC you need to buy. In older buildings you may not be able to put the external unit on the roof and may have to put it in an outside facing plant room or at the base of the building so check with the owner before you buy/rent the office.

If the roof leaks it will be hard to predict where the water will go - get it fixed. I have seen a 13 floor building where the fire tank on the roof burst one Saturday night and water spilled down the fire stair till the third floor at which point it went out under the door and flooded the offices there. We were on the 6th and were unaffected.

Getting modern computer systems, UPS' and racks up in an elevator should not be an issue but measure the elevator before you buy the racks and the AC unit just to be sure you don't need to rent a crane.


I have, unfortunately, seen roof leaks kill servers before. I don't insist on the basement, but I really prefer putting as many floors as possible between a datacenter and any source of water.

  • The ground can also be a source of water - so are fire extinguisher systems on the floors above. – Joel Coel Sep 16 '11 at 20:22

For buildings with enough floors, don't forget the 100M limit of ethernet physical links.


None. In my paper "10 Places You Don't Want A Datacenter" this is number four. I provide the following quote...

“Basement datacenters are a mistake.”
Sir Isaac Newton, 1643-1727

...to make my point. There's also a note from a nurse I met who spoke on her Hurricane Katrina experience on the paper.

In my opinion, every company should focus on what they do best, so the smartest thing you can do is to find a great colocation company. Colocation is becoming a commodity. Commodities are always better to lease than to own.

I maintain an index of great colocation companies along with the uptime (in days) for each at www.UPTIMEdatabase.com. There are some pretty interesting map overlays for tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning strikes there as well - and ok, one for zombie survivability too.

These companies will be great to work with - they are the ones who are actually open about their uptime.

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    "1643-1727" - which is about when this question was asked... ;) – TessellatingHeckler Sep 16 '11 at 20:11

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