The world’s most super-designed data center – fit for a James Bond villain

This underground data center has greenhouses, waterfalls, German submarine engines, simulated daylight and can withstand a hit from a hydrogen bomb. It looks like the secret HQ of a James Bond villain.

And it is real. It is a newly opened high-security data center run by one of Sweden’s largest ISPs, located in an old nuclear bunker deep below the bedrock of Stockholm city, sealed off from the world by entrance doors 40 cm thick (almost 16 inches).

(For the curious there is plenty of more information further down.)


Above: The space-themed conference room is suspended about the server hall.


Above left: View from the conference room (its floor is the surface of the Moon). Above right: Power equipment.


Above: The NOC is set in a cozy jungle setting. That light fog almost makes us think of cloud computing. Fog computing? :)


Above: Artificial waterfalls and plenty of green plants adorn the halls.


Above left: The submarine engines used for backup power. Above right: Another view of the power equipment.


Above: This map shows the layout of the data center. Original image courtesy of Albert France-Lanord Architects (Pingdom added the English translation).

And here is what it used to look like

Quite a difference, isn’t it? :)

Facts about the data center

  • Originally a nuclear bunker: The data center is housed in what was originally a military bunker and nuclear shelter during the Cold War era. The facility still has the code name from its military days: Pionen White Mountains.
  • Located in central Stockholm below 30 meters (almost 100 ft) of bedrock: The facility has 1110 sqm (11950 sq ft) of space and is located below 30 meters of solid bedrock (granite) right inside the city.
  • Fully redesigned in 2007-2008: Pionen was completely redesigned in 2007-2008 to become the data center that it is today. More than 4,000 cubic meters (141,300 cubic ft) of solid rock was blasted away to make more room.
  • Can withstand a hydrogen bomb: The bunker was designed to be able to withstand a near hit by a hydrogen bomb.
  • Houses the Network Operations Center for one of Sweden’s largest ISPs: The bunker houses the NOC for all of Bahnhof’s operations. They have five data centers in Sweden, Pionen being the largest. The facility also acts as a co-location hosting center, so you can actually put your own servers here.
  • German submarine engines for backup power: Backup power is handled by two Maybach MTU diesel engines producing 1.5 Megawatt of power. The engines were originally designed for submarines, and just for fun the people at Pionen have also installed the warning system (sound horns) from the original German submarine.
  • 1.5 megawatt of cooling for the servers: Cooling is handled by Baltimore Aircoil fans producing a cooling effect of 1.5 megawatt, enough for several hundred rack-mounted units.
  • Triple redundancy Internet backbone access: The network has full redundancy with both fiber optics and extra copper lines with three different physical ways into the mountain. Pionen is one the best-connected places in northern Europe.
  • Work environment with simulated daylight and greenhouses: For a pleasant working environment the data center has simulated daylight, greenhouses, waterfalls and a huge 2600-liter salt water fish tank.
  • Staff: 15 employees, only senior technical staff, work full time in Pionen.

Breaking the mold and focusing on humans

We simply couldn’t resist the temptation to ask the people behind the Pionen data center what made them design such an insanely cool and unusual environment deep inside the bedrock of Stockholm.

Jon Karlung, CEO at Bahnhof (the ISP behind Pionen), was kind enough to take the time to speak to us here at Pingdom and explain their motivations.

“Rather than just concentrating on technical hardware we decided to put humans in focus,” he said. “Of course, the security, power, cooling, network, etc, are all top notch, but the people designing data centers often (always!) forget about the humans that are supposed to work with the stuff.”

We suspected that the unique location itself must have been a big inspiration, something which Karlung confirms.

“Since we got hold of this unique nuclear bunker in central Stockholm deep below the rock, we just couldn’t build it like a traditional – more boring – hosting center,” he said. “We wanted to make something different. The place itself needed something far out in design and science fiction was the natural source of inspiration in this case – plus of course some solid experience from having been a hosting provider for more than a decade.”

The visual inspiration

So, where to turn for visual inspiration? Apparently movies were the way to go for Pionen.

“I’m personally a big fan of old science fiction movies. Especially ones from the 70s like Logan’s Run, Silent Running, Star Wars (especially The Empire Strikes Back) so these were an influence,“ said Karlung. “James Bond movies have also had an impact on the design. I was actually looking for the same outfit as the villain ‘Blofeld’ in Bond and even considered getting a white cat, but that might have been going a bit far!”

The marketing aspect

The unique approach also helps the company to get the word out about their facility. It makes them stand out, and since the facility offers co-location hosting, they have customers who frequently visit the place and work there. These people share what they see with others.

“The unique design makes it a ‘talk about’ facility,” said Karlung.”If you have been inside Pionen you will for sure tell somebody else about it.”

Do you know of other awesome data centers?

We here at Pingdom always love it when people step up to the plate and do something different, like what Bahnhof has done with this awesome data center.

If you know of other data centers that are as super-designed and different as this one, please let us know in the comments since we would love to check them out. Links to pictures and information are always welcome!

A big thank you to Jon Karlung at Bahnhof for providing us with extra information and taking the time to answer all our questions. You can read more about the Pionen data center at the Bahnhof website (in Swedish, though).

96 comments

  1. There are some things to think about besides the aesthetics. Like a recurrence of an 1859 solar flare, which knocked out telegraph lines and made an aurora borealis visible in Rome. Besides that, there’s also massive EMP from Nukes that don’t even end up doing any ‘physical’ damage. All data centers should be protected.

  2. Very interesting.
    It’s all very well, but if the entrance on the surface were to be hit by an H bomb, wouldn’t it and any other “escape routes” all be likely to be trashed at the same time?
    So all the people underground at the time would surely be entombed there?

  3. The marenostrum supercomputing center is built in a church and the photos are awesome. Ok, not so spectacular as Pionen White Mountains, but is worth a look.

  4. There’s a couple of hosting companies (The Bunker & Smartbunker) been using old nuclear bunkers in the UK for a while now, though not quite as ‘movie set’ as this one…

  5. This is amazing. To think that these places exist makes the world much more interesting than it already is.
    It’s definitely something straight out of a video game or James Bond film. Was Saturn 3 (1980’s sci-fi movie) an influence?

  6. As a regular buyer of co-located servers – and an economist – I find it quite unnecessary to spend so much money on interior design and other stuff that is not necessary to provide good service. After all, it’s the customers who pay the expenses.

    I mean, how many of us has an artificial rainforest in the office – or would even want one?

  7. @everyone who says this company wasted their cash,

    This is an excellent use of resources. Being such an important data center requires that it has some serious physical security. They put it in a bomb shelter which pretty much covers any outside threat.

    Second, they invested in their employees’ well being. I challenge anyone to find something of major cost that this company should not have done. Waterfalls? Plants? Light? You need people to work there, and these seemingly extravagant expenditures make it more enjoyable for these people to spend half of their day 100ft below ground.

  8. Bahnhof is my ISP, and I think they are the best in Sweden of the ISP’s I know. Remember folks that this is not just a Server park (storage room), it’s also a conferance and a working place, so spending money on the atmosphere is understandable. I personaly think this is totaly awesome and I’d really like to place my Servers there if I got the chance and money.

  9. “I mean, how many of us has an artificial rainforest in the office – or would even want one?”

    I don’t have one, but dearly want one.

  10. The plans show no toilet! do they cross their legs every day or just run outside? (a bugger if someones closed the front door!

  11. John,

    Thanks for the heads up.

    We at Pingdom love the phenomenon of social media and when articles go viral. The only thing that was less fun in this case was that Matthew Shaw took our article, made some small modifications, and basically made it look like he was the originator (including the interview with the CEO of Bahnhof, Jon Karlung, which was actually done by our CEO Sam Nurmi). We wouldn’t have minded if his article had made it clearer that he got his content from our article.

    On a more positive note, we really love what Bahnhof did with Pionen, and are happy that so many others also think it’s cool and are spreading the word.

  12. This is sooo coool!

    To the people whining about the money spent.
    – It’s the company’s money to do with as it wills, with the ultimate approval of the owners.
    – After having seen more than my fair share of plain vanilla datacenters flanked by suicide-inducing cube farms populated by employees who just want to go home to escape the greyness, I am happy to see that some companies decide to go the extra mile.
    – In a way, this is free advertising.
    – Here in Hong Kong, quite a few buildings and interior spaces are built rather more expensively that they could be, just for the sake of esthetics. Contrast this with the glass boxes of your typical North American cities, or the misguided raw concrete efforts of the European seventies. I, for one, prefer to live surrounded by beauty, or at the very least attempts to combat blandness.

  13. Thats amazing! I used to work 12 shifts night/day in a data center and it was the most sterile, square, boring, hot/cold, dry and noisy place ever.

    It was so bad you could get night-shift-depression in the daytime.

    Those henchmen get all the good breaks!

  14. I’m amazed the world still spends the kind of of money required for this kind of feature trying to be safe or in control of itself. Perplexing. Moreover, weird.

  15. Aren’t rain-forest-like humidity and data centers a bad combination?

    Also, if the H-bomb hit, the data would be fine. There would be no upstream connectivity, given the fiber optics would all be melted by the heat. Sealing in data 100′ down is the ultimate in securing their data.

  16. Well do they provide anti-passback in conjunction with motion-sensors and adequate procedures and reporting on physical access? I’ve seen impressive hosting facilites before. A major security audit basically tore that site apart…

  17. This is all well and good, if this was supposed to be made with humans in mind, where is the setup for lanparties? What good is an underground bunker / datacenter if you can’t handle a simple lanparty? What better way to use a Cold War era facility than to get some action at Call of Duty?

  18. To the naysayers – good grief, haven’t you ever heard of job satisfaction? And employee churn?

    You are obviously not an employer!

    Burying your most valuable senior employees under 100ft of rock all day requires something extra-special to keep them interested in their dayjob.

    Imagine telling somebody what your job is:

    Your version: I work in a dim, depressing alcove of rock surrounded by whirring, monotonous computers and a mess of cables. I would kill myself but I don’t have the motivation.

    Their version: I work in an underground jungle, a fog-filled lost world, with the moon for a conference room, a giant fishtank and secretly I think there are evil henchmen guarding my servers.

  19. But where is the guy with the white suit and the furry white cat?
    Seems incomplete with out a submarine dock for that final getaway when the good forces arrive to crush the evil bad guys! lol

  20. Most of the “after” pictures look like 3d renders to me. They have some perspective distortion that you almost never find in real cameras.

    Are they unable to show actual photos for some reason, or is it a hoax? If those are architectural renders, you can be pretty certain that the final result is significantly scaled down from what we see above.

    Oh, and with those waterfalls running full time, I’d hope there’s a bathroom somewhere :)

  21. @Pete: The images are the real deal. Although during normal working conditions (without the press on site) you probably won’t find any smoke or blue lights. The waterfalls were a cool design thing, but the constant sound of running water became to annoying.

  22. Amazing :) I like it. It remind me on CyberBunker.

    “If you know of other data centers that are as super-designed and different as this one, please let us know in the comments since we would love to check them out. Links to pictures and information are always welcome!”

    You might want to check:
    http://www.cyberbunker.com/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CyberBunker

    Operating from a Cold War era government command bunker that was purpose-built by the Military to house sensitive electronic gear, CyberBunker combines the best of modern commercial technology with Military-grade reliability and Military construction to provide the most secure and reliable solution for people and equipment. The facility was built in 1955 to survive through a full-scale nuclear war.

    • Facility is over 5 000 m3.
    • Entire complex is equipped with airlocks for an independent atmosphere.
    • Fully redundant air handling/cooling systems.
    • Air tight rooms.
    • Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) shielding to military standards.
    • Up to 5 meters thick reinforced concrete subterranean construction.
    • Designed to survive a 20-megaton nuclear blast from 5 kilometers.
    • Backup 750 KW diesel generator.
    • Large diesel fuel reserves.
    • 10 000 liters freshwater reserve tank.
    • 240 000 liters freshwater reserve stored in a remote backup bunker.
    • All critical equipment shock-mounted on isolation pads.
    • Nuclear/Biological/Chemical (NBC) air filtration.

    The bunker was constructed to function at energy saving capacity, totally cut off from the outside world for over 10 years.

  23. WOW! Only thing missing was the bunnies featured on the cyberbunker site–genetically altered bunny henchmen! Who’d be ready for that one? : )

  24. hi ref do you know of any other such data centres on that scail !
    Ash east kent uk has submitted plans for a massive bunker upgrade.

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