In this first part of a  two-part piece on Green IT in Scandinavia, I explains what’s behind Scandinavia’s Green IT boom. Check my blog for part two, which looks at the companies making the most of the Green IT revolution.

Clean, organized and collaborative are things that come to mind when I contemplate Scandinavian culture. These admirable traits were probably instilled by enduring centuries of extreme weather. If you were not clean, organized or collaborative, you basically died during the winter. Now the weather and environment drive another unique Scandinavian concept; green data centers. They are popping up all over Scandinavia, and not just the homegrown variety. Facebook and Google have also joined the craze. So let’s look at what is going on, why, and what is the outlook.

The two elements for understanding Scandinavia’s Green IT boom are data growth and the electricity necessary to maintain data. IDC predicts data to grow to forty zettabytes by 2020. This growth stems from increased usage of social media, YouTube movies, video surveillance, websites, smart phones, CAD simulations, 3D printers, and the internet of things, where machines and appliances spew data on status and performance. All this data is kept on spinning metal discs, which need to be cooled. Hence the growing need for electricity to store data.

There are many strategies to keep the resulting energy hunger from growing data, under control. Free cooling, energy efficient servers, solid-state drives and virtualization techniques are all viable ways to keep a datacenter’s energy bills under control. But a more novel approach is to base your datacenter in an environment cooled by nature, and where there is abundant, low cost renewable energy. Add in political and economic stability, and you find yourself in Scandinavia.

Places like Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland are close to the Artic and enjoy low average temperatures all year long. Scandinavian countries are also blessed with abundant geothermal and hydro energy, this to potentially power datacenters with carbon neutral energy. This combination of a cool environment and cheap renewable energy provides Scandinavia a unique advantage when competing for new datacenter sites.

An example of a datacenter, powered by Icelandic steam from the earth’s core is Verne Global, based in disused NATO army buildings. One of their customers, BMW, moved the CAD/CAE simulations of its vehicles’ aerodynamics and crash tests to Verne Global. These design and simulation applications run on High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure and consume large amounts of power, usually associated with high carbon emissions. Nice added touch, when building the next generation of green vehicles, BMW can claim their vehicles were designed and simulated on zero carbon emitting computers.

Then there is the new IT Center for Science (CSC) in Kajaani, administered by Finland’s Ministry of Education and Science. CSC, a non-profit company, provides IT infrastructure for universities and research facilities. CSC receives data from CERN, maintains academic libraries, and offers storage services for the Finnish Audiovisual Archive. This HPC (high-performance computing) infrastructure was hosted in Helsinki, but growing data implied rising costs so the Ministry commissioned a new datacenter, which was built upon a disused paper mill site. Old paper mills had two characteristics that are vital for a datacenter. They are energy hungry, so usually located next to sources of abundant (renewable) energy, and they require high power reliability. A split second of down time is disastrous in the production of paper, hence the high reliability of paper mills’ energy infrastructure. This reliability is also critical for powering datacenters.