– The future of data centers in Europe

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Rapid technological progress means that Europe’s data center infrastructure is in need of an update. GlobalConnect Carrier’s Head of Complex Solutions, Claes Björkengren (CB), and Head of Tech and Delivery, Patrik Gylesjö (PG), explain what this means for the industry.

Why is Europe’s existing data center infrastructure outdated?

PG: Just 10 years ago, a data center server would take up half a rack, so there was no need to have a rack with more power than five kilowatts. Everything was designed with specific demands regarding cooling, power infrastructure and battery backups, etc. Today, you can get a lot of capacity into just one standard rack unit. So if you’re still sitting in one of those old data centers, the power and cooling infrastructure limits your capacity to scale.

CB: As old data centers are very inefficient in their use of space and energy, this infrastructure leads to unsustainable practice. This compares to the newer data centers that you can constantly update using modular units.

PG: To give you one example, we once had one customer who moved to GlobalConnect from a severe situation where their data racks reached the ceiling. The floor in that old data center had not been designed to bear this weight and the whole setup became unstable. 

Based on what you’ve both said, it sounds like every element of the data center requires an update. Have any parts of the infrastructure remained resilient?

PG: Obviously if your data center was inside a bunker before, it’s still a bunker. But other than that, I’d say almost everything else has changed.

CB: I agree. In terms of security too, access system and camera technologies have all advanced to become much smarter. We can even connect them to systems supported by artificial intelligence that can react to threats before a trained security guard could.

PG: Many old data centers are stuck with physical limitations. You can install a new camera, but it’s much harder to increase the ceiling height when you need a couple more meters of air to cool off the heat.

How is the industry responding?

PG: The general trend in the Nordics shows companies are moving towards larger data centers. We’re transitioning from many small data centers to fewer larger ones, which allows everyone to benefit from an economy at scale. Within these larger data centers, it’s still possible for every organisation to keep their own separate facility, all while enjoying the benefits of shared storage, docking bays, and 24/7 security guards.

CB: All of these shared services are obvious wins for smaller companies. But one of the really interesting developments we’re seeing is the movement of bigger players from large facilities on their premises to those same shared larger data centers. Of course they still benefit from the security, but they’re also futureproofing their business by exploiting the flexibility and scalability that this transition allows.

You mention the Nordic region. What’s GlobalConnect Carrier’s role in this?

PG: We provide two things. First, we provide the data center capacity, and we offer everything from a single rack to an entire private and gated data center. Secondly, we connect your servers or data center to other locations around the world using high-capacity services. 

CB: We’re pretty unique as a company with offering tailored data centers. We can build something that is completely flexible for our customers – something they might not find elsewhere.

How far can the industry take this model?

CB: Right now, it depends on how much you, as a customer, are willing to share with other organisations. If you’re unwilling to share power or cooling infrastructure, you’ll be limited. But as soon as you accept the idea of sharing, for example, backup generators, it becomes very flexible and you gain the ability to scale up and down as needed.

It seems like data centers could have infinite lifetimes with this model. Is there any limit?

CB: In theory, our infrastructure does have an infinite lifetime. It’s true that there are only a certain number of years you can keep the same switchboard or generator. But because of our modular approach, any components that become out-of-date can easily be exchanged.

PG: We have seen trials of various tech, e.g., underwater data center, but most are still in trial phases. The current trends will remain for the next 10 – 20 years.  The current trend will remain at least for the next 10 to 20 years, and the Nordic region will continue to provide the best location for those with its clean, cheap energy and cool climate.