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Server Farms Need Cheap, Reliable Power

Facebook has announced multi-million pound plans to build what is in effect a ‘mini town’ at Lulea, on the edge of the Arctic Circle in Sweden. Why? To house all its computer servers in three halls the size of 11 football pitches in a gigantic web-farm.

The setting, which will demand as much power as a community of 50,000 people, will harness fresh air to cool the servers. The temperature there has not risen above 30 degrees for over 24 hours since 1961.

Cooling will still consume power equivalent to serving 16,000 homes at a cost of around £45 million a year. This will come from dams on the nearby river. So this server-farm is a model with basically green intentions and economic benefits.

The local power grid is reliable, having already powered the iron, steel and paper industries, and this also appealed to Facebook, along with Sweden’s dense fibre-optic network.

The Node Pole

The project is being promoted as a ‘Node Pole’, a northern equivalent of Silicon Valley, as developers hope it should draw in other computer giants. Google bought a disused paper mill in Finland in 2009 to take advantage of inexpensive hydro-electricity. Back in 2007 Microsoft were in discussion for a site in Siberia, which didn’t progress.

Bill St Arnaud, writing on Opposing Views, breaking the Facebook story, said that this was a great example of how ‘countries like Canada, Sweden, Norway could be the hubs of the future global green Internet’.

He felt that Canada, in particular with ‘an abundance of stranded hydro-electricity would be ideal for data centers’, and that with such proximity to the USA, it would have been an ideal location for Facebook and others. But Canada’s lack of competitive fibre infrastructure mitigates against such developments, in his view.

Yet any country with natural resources (like free space, advanced technological capability, cool climate) should be exploiting them in the data-hungry age.  Farms like this streamline internal processes, load-balance the tasks, prioritising and rescheduling as demand changes and provide instant backup.

Some commentators question the wisdom of concentrating resources in dense areas, risking cyber/terrorist/sabotage attacks. But if huge windfarms make sense in the energy sector, then so do data farms which are like small towns. If demand can only grow, how else is it to be met?

This kind of super-city of computer strength in the cheapest, most reliable power vortex available, and it’s the undeniable future for massive computer housing, until everything is in the clouds.

But even then there’ll have to be huge infrastructures somewhere on earth. Or will there?

Opposing Views, Bill St Arnaud.


Photo: Bidgee