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Shape matters: Why this dome could be the future of small data centers

ServerDomes is a cutting-edge facility that relies on its unique shape for energy efficiency.

Andy Altman Director of Video Production
Andy Altman is a producer covering all things science and tech. He led production on CNET's award-winning limited documentary series Hacking the Apocalypse. He also created and co-hosts our video series What the Future.
  • Gold Telly 2022 - Science and Technology, Gold Telly 2022 - Science and Technology Series, Gold Telly 2021 - Documentary Series, Silver Telly 2021 - Directing
Andy Altman

Take a stroll through the Oregon Health and Science University west campus in Beaverton and you'll come across an unusual structure. It may look more like it belongs on a farm than a college campus but, inside, thousands of computer servers are busy handling workloads for the university.

The first ServerDomes  facility was built in 2014 for OHSU to supplement the school's main data center in downtown Portland. It was designed as a geodesic dome for maximum space with minimal building materials. "Everything about this design has nothing to do with the looks; every element has to do with efficiency and sustainability," ServerDomes CEO Alan Resnik told CNET. 

Data center operators spend millions of dollars every year on cooling equipment like air conditioners, chillers and air ducts, not to mention the billions of gallons of water they use every year. You won't find any of that in ServerDome. The facility relies on its unique shape and natural airflow to keep the computers inside cool. It also uses a fraction of the water of a typical facility compared with the industry standard. Click the video above for more on how it works. 

The structure is made of 60% recycled aluminum with an estimated lifespan of around 25 years.