Thinking back, looking forward: Sustainable data center growth in the Nordics
Vertiv EMEA president Giordano Albertazzi looks back on data center expansion in the Nordics and the region’s role as an efficient ‘best execution venue’ for the future.
At the start of the new year it’s natural to look to the future. But it’s also worth taking some time to think back to the past.
Last year was not only another period of strong data center growth globally, and in the Nordic region specifically, but also the end of a decade of sustained digital transformation.
There have been dramatic shifts over the last ten years but the growth in hyperscale facilities is one of the most defining – and one with which the Nordic region is very well acquainted.
According to figures from industry analysts Synergy Research the total number of hyperscale sites has tripled since 2013 and there are now more than 500 such facilities worldwide
And it seems that growth shows no signs of abating. According to Synergy, in addition to the 504 current hyperscale data centers, a further 151 that are at various stages of planning or building.
A good number of those sites will be sited in the Nordics if recent history is anything to go by. The region has already seen significant investment from cloud and hyperscale operators such as Facebook, AWS and Apple. Google was also one of the early entrants and invested $800 million in its Hamina, Finland facility in 2010. It recently announced plans to invest a further $600 million in an expansion of that site.
I was lucky enough to speak at the recent DataCloud Nordics event at the end of last year. My presentation preceded Google’s country manager, Google Cloud, Denmark and Finland, Peter Harden, who described the company’s growth plans for the region. Hamina, Finland is one of Google’s most sustainable facilities thanks in no small part to its Nordics location which enables 100% renewable energy and innovative sea water cooling.
Continuing that theme of sustainability, if the last decade has been about keeping pace with data demand, then the next ten years will be about continued expansion but importantly efficient growth in the right locations, using the right technology and infrastructure. The scale of growth being predicted – billions of new edge devices for example – will necessitate a sustainable approach.
That future we at Vertiv, and others, believe will be based around putting workloads where they make most sense from a cost, risk, latency, security and efficiency perspective. Or as industry analysts 451 Research puts it: The Best Execution Venue (BEV). (a slightly unwieldy term but an accurate one). BEV refers to the specific IT infrastructure an app or workload should run on – cloud, on-premise or at the edge for example – but could also equally apply to geographic location of data centers.
In that BEV future, the Nordics will become increasingly important for hosting a variety of workloads but the sweet-spot could be those that are less latency sensitive – high performance compute (HPC) for example – and can therefore benefit from the stable, renewable and cheap power as well as the abundance of free cooling. Several new sub-sea cables coming online over the near future will also address some of the connectivity issues the region has faced.
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A recent study by the Nordic Council of Ministers estimates that approximately EUR 2.2 bn. have been invested in the Nordics on initiated data centre construction works over the last 12 to 18 months (2018). Mainly within hyperscale and cloud infrastructure. This number could exceed EUR 4 bn. annually within the next five to seven years because of increasing market demand and a pipeline of planned future projects.
Vertiv recently conducted some forward-looking research that appears to reinforce the Nordic’s future potential. Vertiv first conducted its Data Center 2025 research back in 2014 to understand where the industry thought it was headed. In 2019, we updated that study to find out how attitudes had shifted in the intervening five years – a half way point if you will be between 2014 and 2025.
The survey – of more than 800 data center experts – covers a range of technology areas but let’s focus on a few that are important and relevant to the Nordics.
- Edge growth
We mentioned the edge a little earlier when talking about BEV. Vertiv has identified four key edge archetypes that cover the edge use cases that our experts believe will drive edge deployments in the future. According to the 2025 research, of those participants who have edge sites today, or expect to have edge sites in 2025, 53% expect the number of edge sites they support to grow by at least 100% with 20% expecting an increase of 400% or more.
So along with providing a great venue for future colo and cloud growth, the Nordics, like other regions, is also likely to see strong edge growth. That edge demand will require not only new data center form-factors – such as prefabricated modular (PFM) data center designs – but also monitoring and management software and specialist services.
- Renewable energy
Another challenge around edge compute, and the core for that matter, is energy availability – and increasingly, access to clean, renewable energy.
The results of the 2025 research revealed that respondents are perhaps more realistic and pragmatic about the importance and access to clean power than back in 2014. Participants in the original survey projected 22% of data center power would come from solar and an additional 12% from wind by 2025. That’s a little more than one-third of data center power from these two renewable sources, which seemed like an unrealistic projection at the time.
This year’s numbers for solar and wind (13% and 8% respectively) seem more realistic. However, importantly for Nordics countries with an abundance of hydropower, participants in this year’s survey expect hydro to be the largest energy source for data centers in 2025.
- Efficient cooling
The data center 2025 research, also looked at one of the other big drivers for building capacity in the Nordics: access to efficient cooling.
According to the 2025 survey, around 42% of respondents expect future cooling requirements to be met by mechanical cooling systems. Liquid cooling and outside air also saw growth from 20% in 2014 to 22% in 2019, likely driven by the more extreme rack densities being observed today. This growth in the use of outside air obviously benefits temperate locations like the Nordics.
In summary, if the last ten years have been about simply keeping up with data center demand, the next ten years will be about adding purposeful capacity in the most efficient, sustainable and cost-effective way: the right data center type, thermal and power equipment, and location for the right workloads.
If the past is anything to go by, the Nordics will have an important role to play in that future.
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