The Scandinavian data center push

In the past I’ve looked at the strategy some IT leaders are using to reduce data center energy costs by locating data centers off the beaten path. Iceland was one case I examined because the small country has an abundance of clean energy—hydroelectric and geothermal—as well as a large fiber channel to mainland Europe.

But it’s not just Iceland. It’s increasingly looking like the Scandinavian countries with their temperate climates and tax breaks are becoming important destinations of choice for large North American IT giants that want to serve mainland Europe, a place that is notorious for having very expensive electricity. France and England each average around 20 cents per kilowatt hour while Germany runs as high as 34 cents per kilowatt hour. Compare that to the American range of 8 to 17 cents with reports of data centers in North Carolina and Washington State paying around 5 cents.

Google announced earlier this month that it will invest another 450 million euros ($600 million) in a Finish data center on top of the 350 million euros it’s already invested. This comes at a critical time when Nokia, the Finish IT leader, is itself struggling, signified by an announcement in September that it was selling its handset business to Microsoft.

The Hamina facility uses seawater cooling to dissipate heat from servers, a fairly novel approach that helps reduce energy costs related to running chillers at most normal data centers. Overall, the more temperate Finnish climate is an advantage for locating data centers there along with the government’s willingness to extend tax incentives.

It’s not just Finland, though. Norway’s Green Mountain Data Center, a colocation center which bills itself as the greenest in the world because it uses 100 percent renewable energy and also takes advantage of seawater cooling, has itself rolled out very competitive long term power rates precisely because of the long term pricing visibility of its hydroelectric power. The data center is offering customers locked in electricity pricing for between 3 and 10 years at the rate of 3.75 euro cents per kilowatt hour.

Finally, Sweden has grabbed headlines, because of Facebook’s $750 million investment in a data center in Lulea, Sweden. Temperatures are low in Lulea where they have not risen above 30 degrees Celsius for more than 24 hours since 1961. The Lule River generates so much hydroelectric power that it’s producing a 50 percent surplus of energy.

Facebook’s Lulea data center is also near a technology university, should Facebook want to invest in, for example, a research collaboration or make further cloud investments. One criticism of the tax incentives IT giants have received in Scandinavia centers around the fact there’s an initial large investment which drives the local economy through construction, but long term employment is usually far less as data center staffing is typically light with servers executing tasks night and day.  From one perspective these data centers are effectively information warehouses. The Swedish government provided an investment grant of 103 million kronor ($18.6 million dollars) to Facebook.

It’s fair to say that a one off data center isn’t going to turn around the IT game in a place like Finland, that has struggled with Nokia’s decline. Rather, the hope is that a larger data center hub forms in these locations as it has in places like North Caorlina.

Global demand for cloud services like streaming video, data analytics, online music libraries, email and search will continue to drive IT leaders to locate data centers in places where broadband infrastructure is solid and where energy pricing is stable. If there’s been one lesson from the growth of data center infrastructure in Scandinavia it’s not just that companies like Facebook and Google want clean power, it’s that stable electricity pricing, which is a key advantage of renewable energy, can help drive data center business to new and promising locations.

Icelanders approve their crowdsourced constitution

Iceland’s citizens were given a chance to help forge a new constitution for their country through Facebook and Twitter, so it’s not surprising that they backed the resulting draft. Now it’s over to the politicians.

With data centers, web giants have great eco-responsibility

Much of the data center industry is upset about a recen report exposing some wasteful energy practices. However, eBay’s Dean Nelson says the data center industry isn’t perfect and it’s up to companies like his to lead the charge on bringing everyone else up to speed.

Today in Cleantech

Apple fired back at Greenpeace this morning. Greenpeace issued a report yesterday criticizing Apple for its reliance on coal based power for its North Carolina data center. At issue are estimates over how much power the data center will actually draw. Greenpeace puts it at 100 megawatts. Apple says the data center will only use 20 megawatts, meaning a much larger percentage of its power will come from the solar arrays and fuel cells it’s installing at the data center’s site. But all this arguing over trying to guess the final power draw for the data center aside, what’s amazing is that it’s just no longer okay for a company to build a data center that relies too heavily on dirty power. Apple rarely responds to criticism from anybody, nor does it give out information about how it plans to execute any project. The fact that it did both (Apple disclosed the power draw for the NC data center and guaranteed that its next data center in Oregon would be 100 percent renewable), shows just how much IT companies are beginning to feel like they have to show their green credentials. Now if only this trend could infect other industries like automobile manufacturing or building construction.

Cleantech Open announces winners

Twenty-one cleantech startups from across the U.S. competed for a grand prize of $250,000 in investment and services at this year’s Cleantech Open Business Competition. And the winners are . . .

Amazon’s James Hamilton on how to build a better data center

James Hamilton, VP and distinguished engineer for Amazon Web Services, has some hot tips on building or running a cooler, and more energy-efficient data center. Hamilton, something of a data center rock star, spoke at a recent Open Compute Project event.

Web work: Way greener than you think?

In a shift that’s analogous to the movement toward cloud computing, work is changing from a place to a network armed with collaboration tools, and this change raising questions about environmental impact. But are we underestimating the green benefits of new ways of working?

Facebook engineer: Cut power by slowing hard drives

The latest idea from Facebook on how to revolutionize the data center is elegant in its simplicity: put a switch on hard-disk drives that slows their speed when their data is no longer hot. I wonder if Facebook will take up the cause and build it.

GE shows off uber-green LEED platinum data center

Achieving the ultimate in green building badges — the LEED platinum certification — is pretty rare and is particularly unusual for data centers. But on Thursday GE showed off its new LEED platinum-certified data center in Louisville, Ky. Here are some photos from the green facility.

For our sensor heavy future, IBM cooks up a new silicon brain

After a century of making tabulation machines IBM has come up with a new chip that marries our brain’s architecture with silicon guts. The goal is to create a new style of computing aimed at making sense of big data without consuming a lot of power.