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The Importance of Location for Green Data Centers

Location is becoming increasingly important to the sustainability of ICT facilities. We've been tracking activities which try to leverage geographic features for greener operations. This article focuses on Europe and Asia. (Another focuses on North America.) Our latest update highlights the relationship between renewable energy availability and overall desirability for siting data centers.

Recent Updates

Cushman & Wakefield's Data Centre Risk Index Report 2016 ranks locations based on ten criteria. "Sustainability (% Energy from Alternatives)" only contributes 9% to the weighed evaluation, but Iceland and Norway, which are tops in this category, also top the overall ratings. "With a rising number of data centre operators seeking sustainable sources to support their operations, the Nordics and Canada represent prime examples of countries where more sustainable and renewable options are already in place. Locations such as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland score highly within our index and with a large share of renewables tends to come a secure energy supply." We've cited earlier versions of this report, below.


US company Verne Global was the first company we saw focus on Iceland. It cited what it calls the "Icelandic Advantage" of its data center:

"100% Green Energy: All of Iceland's electricity comes from affordable, sustainable geothermal and hydroelectric energy... These resources are 100% renewable, with no green energy price're guaranteed a supply of continuous, high-quality electricity at a fixed rate...for up to 20 years..."
"Free Cooling: The mean annual temperature in Iceland is -0.5°C (30°F) in January and 13°C (55°F) in July...As a result, we can handle power densities of up to 15 to 20 kW per rack using cooling from Iceland's ambient temperature alone."
"Less natural disaster risk than the U.S., U.K. or India"

The company also notes that its data center is in a re-purposed military facility, a European trend.

More: Verne Global and Green ICT. (We posted a video to the right. Please refresh your browser window if you do not see it.)

Microsoft considered the country in 2007 as a data center location, but rejected it. Silcon Valley Watcher reported, "The main reason was that Microsoft decided to locate its data centers no more than 500 miles from large population centers because of latency issues." The attempt to lure Microsoft did yield Price Waterhouse Coopers' Benchmarking Study on Iceland as a Location For Data Centre Activity. More from PWC about Iceland.

Another Icelandic company using the country's assets for Green ICT is GreenQloud, featured in a number of our posts.

Icelandic data center ThorDC reports, "Opera Software ASA, a Norwegian software company, primarily known for its Opera family of web browsers [signed] an agreement to move a significant part of its electronic data traffic to the Thor Data Center...the Thor data center will be the most eco-friendly data center in the world. This is both due to the type of technology it utilizes and because it uses only renewable energy from local sources."

There is a risk in operating a data center in an area with active volcanos: Eyjafjnallajokull and thel data center.

Elsewhere in Europe

See how unique Swedish data center is promoting its natural cooling advantage and learn more about innovative approaches to cooling data centers.

CloudSigma presents the location-specific benefits of Switzerland

From The Wall Street Journal in 2011: "Google Inc.'s opening of a €200 million ($273 million) server hall in Hamina, Finland, over the weekend is boosting Scandinavian hopes that other big Internet companies will choose to build data centers in the region, attracted by its cold climate and low electricity prices."

Facebook cites cooling as a reason for locating its data center for Europe, Middle East and Africa in Sweden near the Arctic Circle.

Green Mountain Data Centre is built into the side of a Norwegian mountain alongside a high-threshold fjord. The geologic feature retains a deep pool of year-round cold water - 8 °C - which the facility uses for cooling. The data center also uses renewable energy. The data center won the 2013 DatacenterDynamics "Green" Data Center Award.

The Data Centre Risk Index 2012 report "…ranks countries according to the risks likely to affect the successful operation of a data centre, risk factors such as energy costs, connectivity…the likelihood of natural disasters or political instability…energy security and education…" "The UK has moved…to second position this year. Its high international internet bandwidth capacity and ease of doing business put it above all other European locations surveyed. Germany is the second most popular location in Europe in which to locate a data centre followed by new emerging markets the Nordics…The U.S. retains its first place ranking and is considered the lowest risk location for building and operating a data centre in the world. It holds top position for international bandwidth and performs well in the other tier 1 risk categories as well as having the highest percentage of its population completing tertiary education. Canada remains in the top five low risk locations. Hong Kong has maintained its position as the location with the least risk in Asia for setting up data centres, and ranks seventh."

Ireland, too. UK's The Guardian reported in 2012, "Google and other multinationals say that the Irish weather is now one of the main attractions for global computer and online corporations setting up data centres in the Republic. The Silicon Valley firm has just established a $75m (£46.2m) data processing centre alongside its European headquarters in Dublin…Amazon also operates a cloud computing centre in the Irish capital…A year before Google's investment, Microsoft put an additional $130m into its data processing centre, having already invested $500m…UK-owned Telecity invested €100m (£81.3m) in August 2011 in a data processing centre at three locations in Dublin." The Guardian quotes Forrester Research - "Make sure you consider Dublin, it is becoming an ever-more popular alternative to London for the more abundant power, less expensive real estate, and climate suited for free cooling." - and a Telecity manager - "The cooling element of these IT facilities is one of the reasons why Ireland is a popular choice for data centres."