Why data centers can be massive, but not gigantic

Data center in Ningxia, China

Rendering illustrates a planned facility that may house Amazon Web Services' China data center. The size isn't provided.

Credit: NingXia West Cloud Valley Technology, China

Data center user group Afcom tries to bring order to a business known for superlatives


The IT industry has long abused words, and will label almost any new product as innovative and disruptive. Data center developers, especially those who write the headlines about data centers, are particularly bad.

The very big data centers built by cloud providers or the NSA will be called humongous, gigantic, super-sized, colossal, mammoth and immense, among other monikers.

There's no agreement on what constitutes a gigantic versus a very large data center, but a data center user group, Afcom, published a paper this week that tries to do just that.

Afcom is offering definitions around commonly used terms to describe data centers that cover size and density metrics. The goal is to help everyone understand what a data center means when it says "average measured peak kW load," or what "extreme" density means, which is north of 16kW.

The paper, which Afcom is seeking comments on, also legitimizes the word "mega" to describe a data center. To qualify, it must be more than 225,001 square feet and have more than 9,001 racks. Next on the list is "massive," which would be a data center with more than 75,001 square feet. ("Gigantic" didn't make the cut, by the way.)

Tom Roberts, Afcom president and a former senior technical architect for data centers at Trinity Health, said he hopes the paper brings some uniformity to the industry, especially internationally.

For instance, said Roberts, in some parts of the world a 50,000-square-foot data center might be described as "mega," but not in the U.S.

"The whole goal around this is to put some guidelines about what those definitions really mean," said Roberts.

In China, a cloud data center data complex in Ningxia that's expected to include Amazon's new AWS operation there, is described as a "super data center," by the entity building it The actual size isn't detailed.

"Super" didn't make Afcom's list, either.

Afcom's data center size chart Afcom

Afcom guide to properly defining whether a data center is either mega or mini.

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