To the Countryside?
Are data centers like the facilities on Vågsfjord or in Keflavík thus the solution and the silver bullet for the data centers of the future, whose demands for energy and storage space for vast amounts of data will only continue to increase? Marko Hoffmann, team leader for new media at TÜV SÜD’s Sec-IT Department has a rather cautious outlook despite the many advantages. “I believe that these cases actually represent showcase projects,” he says. “A great deal must come together to solve the problems of data center availability, efficiency and security.” That is to say, environmental friendliness and low costs are merely two from among a whole series of decisive criteria.
Planning, construction and operations for the large-scale facilities in Norway and Iceland are particularly low-priced due to the climatic, geographic and geological conditions. What remains crucial for their later use, however, is confidence in the security of the data. The idea of trusting sensitive company data to a service provider thousands of kilometers away may perhaps send shivers up and down the spines of a majority of IT experts.
Data center operators promise the highest levels of security and point specifically to the remote location of their facilities—far from electromagnetic effects and big cities. “But the actual location of data storage is highly sensitive information for many customers,” says Marko Hoffmann. “For many companies with a high degree of consciousness about data security, it’s often important that the data be stored in their own country.” Small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, are more likely to rely on regional data centers, or on their own solutions, whereby the data remains in-house.
Take Munich, for instance: in the middle of the state capital, the district of Upper Bavaria is building a new data center in a former underground bunker. TÜV SÜD has been assisting since the planning phase and has optimized many features, the energy efficiency in particular. With no cool fjord water and only limited regenerative energy sources, operating costs must be lowered by improving efficiency.
Thomas Grüschow, TÜV SÜD data center specialist
"Deploying modern, efficient technology and heat-tolerant IT devices—these are core elements of environmental friendliness and sustainability for data centers."
A Question of Temperature
Thomas Grüschow is a data center specialist at TÜV SÜD and ran the project. He views himself as a pioneer—even ecologically. “Anyone who cools their facilities with water directly from the natural cycle may have chosen a cost-effective solution,” he says, “but whether or not this is actually ecologically sustainable for our planet is debatable.” Mega data centers like the LMD would heat up the fjord, which, in turn, reduces the oxygen content of the water.
Grüschow therefore welcomes new ideas for cooling and regenerative energy supplies in suitable regions of the world, but sees the future of new data repositories taking a different approach: “The technology must be further refined so that it can be run even more energy-efficiently than today.” Specifically this means that servers must be able to deal with higher temperatures and energy loss must be reduced.
Current developments confirm the impact of this approach. While data centers used to need to be cooled to 18 degrees Celsius, they can now withstand more than 23 degrees. “Deploying modern, efficient technology and heat-tolerant IT devices,” Grüschow says, “these are core elements of environmental friendliness and sustainability for data centers. And not alleged advantages such as exploiting cooling with water from the natural cycle without knowing the long-term environmental impacts.”
And so it seems as if there are ultimately two opposing alternatives that will influence data centers of the future: the international and the local. Yet this doesn’t mean in the end that one necessarily precludes the other; instead, they are much more likely to complement one another. While highly sensitive data is better stored on location or close to a company due to security concerns, localization isn’t necessary for the bulk of global data. Most could therefore be stored anywhere around the world, provided that people’s confidence in this systematization isn’t undermined in some way.
Then again, what unites these two variations is the pursuit of a continually better ecological balance. Even nine years ago, the Internet was already emitting as much carbon dioxide as the aviation sector. The amounts of data will continue to grow in our society and, with them, the costs. Ultimately, the greatest challenge is ensuring the data triad of efficiency, carbon neutrality and security.