Climate may affect data centers, but the overriding factor will be where the demand is,
Data centers are affected by many things. Climate can influence the choice of location, but there are usually many additional factors such as the state of the local economy, proximity to consumers, availability of power and networking connections and, very importantly, politics.
We look at some key data center locations, and draw out the patterns behind the most exciting (hottest) and most fascinating (coolest) locations on the planet. Wherever data center demand is strong, those building the facilities have no choice.
They must meet the environmental needs through a series of technology choices and trade-offs, designed to ensure the facility delivers a reliable digital service to its ultimate consumers.
Energy can make up more than half the overall cost of the data center during its lifetime, and operators will do everything in their power to reduce their expenses. This means picking technology which will run the facility more efficiently – but also making geographical choices, such as going where the energy costs are cheap (or where there is a supply of renewable energy that will reduce environmental impact).
There are also political decisions to be made. Facebook and the other large hyperscale operators famously play off different American states or European countries against each other, locating their facilities where they get the most generous tax breaks. In Scandinavia, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, each country has offered competing levels of tax exemption for data centers. And in the US, Utah and New Mexico were placed in open competition to give Facebook the best terms for a data center in 2016: New Mexico eventually won.
Builders know in advance what cooling technology they will require, and what will be practical in a given location. Servers use electricity, and all the power used in a data center will ultimately be emitted as heat, which must be removed to keep the equipment within its working temperatures.
It’s easiest to remove that heat in a cool climate, where the outside air can do most of the work – subject to being safely filtered and run through heat exchangers. Thermal guidelines from ASHRAE show which parts of the world can use free-cooling and for how many hours.
In most of the populated regions of the Northern hemisphere, free-cooling can be used for at least a part of the year. In Northern countries like Iceland and Sweden, it can be used all year round. Near the equator, in places like Singapore, mechanical cooling is required all the time.
At the same time, Iceland and Sweden have plenty of cheap renewable electricity, while Singapore does not.
Despite all this, Singapore is thriving, while Iceland remains a relatively exotic data center destination. The reason? Location still carries more weight than anything else, except for providers with applications which can live with a long response time.
All of this could be changing. The Internet of Things and the demand for digital content have led to the growth of so-called “edge” resources which are located where the data is needed most. This means that all locations where there are people will need digital infrastructure.
But it will also boost requirements for back-end resources that can be accessed with a greater latency, such as analytics and reporting. All the important parts of the data collected at the edge will need to be backed up and analyzed. And all the customer data which doesn’t need regular access (think old Facebook posts, or bank statements) can be safely put elsewhere.
That’s where the specialized hyper-efficient data centers will come into their own.
In a sense then, almost every location on earth could find a role in the digital landscape which we are building. The role of the technology is to deliver the digital resources to where they have to be. – Data Center Dynamics