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30 September 2016

Why Tech Companies Prefer the Cold

Image Source: popularresistance.org
Yesterday, on his personal Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg shared a series of images of the company's colossal data center. It's big, it's black, it's spartan and it's in Sweden. Given that Facebook gestated in Massachusetts before settling in Paulo Alto alongside all the other tech giants, the idea that they might venture as far as Sweden to build anything so important might seem a bit odd.

There's a very important reason for the location, though - the cold. This particular facility is located near the city of LuleĆ„, some 112km south of the Arctic Circle. Facebook aren't the only company to have done this, Microsoft are building a $250 million data center in Finland, and Google and Amazon both have facilities in Dublin.

Even Utah - which straddles the line between extreme desert heat and mountain cold - houses a gigantic surveillance data facility, placed there by the NSA. The reasoning behind this is actually fairly simple - the outside air is naturally cold, so it can be pumped into the buildings to keep the servers at optimal operating temperature with a far lower energy cost than if the air needed to be cooled artificially.

A conceptual design for 'data skyscrapers' in Iceland, created by Valeria Mercuri and Marco Merletti (via inhabitat.com)

There's another factor, particularly when you consider Scandinavia. Most Scandinavian countries use a great deal of hydroelectric power, enabling such huge, demanding facilities to run efficiently without leaving such an equally massive carbon footprint. Even more significantly, Iceland, which is also fast becoming a data center hub, has a verdant supply of cheap thermal energy to go along with the cold weather.

Of course, this means that many data technicians and other specialists who have to work in these places are having to adjust to working in what effectively amounts to cold storage. Granted, many of them are local, so they should be at least somewhat used to it, but it still brings a host of new challenges to the working environment. The presence of low cost hydroelectric power is keeping these facilities confined to the North of Europe for now, but in the future we might even start seeing them crop up in the Arctic Circle.



Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.