Monday, January 16, 2012

Data centers in the North

In recent years the idea of utilising cold climates for the cooling of data centers has become more and more real, with Google’s opening of a data center in Hamina 2009, Finland, probably being one of the best examples.

In one of the more recent investments in the area Facebook is looking to take the concept of “cool” even further as they look to open their first European data center in Luleå, Sweden, something which the British paper the Daily Mail wrote about in an October article. In the article Facebook mentions estimates of running a self-cooling system to cool the center sufficiently for an incredible eight months of the year. Along with this the offices will be warmed up using the heat generated by the operating servers making it even more energy efficient.

Northern Europe also has incredible amounts of water sources and the new Facebook center is looking to be powered using 100% renewable energy sources, possible because of the huge amount of hydroelectricity produced in the area. Not only is this very environmentally friendly but also a cheap option for the company as the electricity costs of Northern Sweden is among the lowest throughout Europe.

In addition to the cold weather northern Europe features high-speed Internet connections at a reasonable price, and this not only in bigger urban areas as one might expect. Already in 2006 I first got the option of having a 100/100 Mbps Internet connection delivered straight into my living room via fiber optics. This being in a small Swedish city with fewer than 13000 inhabitants. According to measurements by based on users of their services there is a clear connection between household connection speeds and northern Europe with Estonia, Lithuania, Sweden and Latvia all ranking within the top 5 countries in the world. While household speeds and company connections don’t necessarily correlate it suggests a well built infrastructure which companies too are able to utilise and as plenty of bandwidth is already available the connection price is low.

Along with this colder climate areas are often less popular places to live in and it’s more often the case than not that these places tend to have huge areas of unused land surround them. This together with few competitors means the land price is lower which makes a difference, especially considering the amount of connected land which is required for huge scale data centers. Smaller municipalities also have great gain in having companies place data centers where they are at as it generates plenty of commerce and jobs for the area. In the case of Google's data center in Finland they have more than 90 workers of which they claim most come from the local area. Because of this economical factor the Swedish government granted support in excess of 100 million SEK ($14.2 million) to further gain Facebook's interest.

All in all there are very many and good reasons for data centers to take advantage of climate and power supply possibilities as their physical location has fairly limited consequences for the users of a website or service. The biggest concern probably being a minimal increase in latency with the distance generally being further away from more densely populated areas where many users reside. I believe we are likely to see many more modern data center projects of this sort in the near future alongside continued growth in cloud computing services.



  1. I smiled for the first time in a while after reading your post. It made my day.

  2. Nice post. The latency issue that you raise is an important one. It is important to have geographically diverse data centers, especially in this age when people stream heavy files over the internet. This could potentially create more bottleneck links (unless throughput provisioning is adjusted accordingly).