Datacenters Are the New Church: In the Euro Cloud With Interxion

The tech revolution of the 21st century is changing how professionals analyze data, how people share, socialize, connect and collaborate with others, and how enterprises will improve business processes. Culturally, innovation is beginning to hold greater sway over our lives than at any other time in human history.

More than three millennia ago, the Phoenicians were the first people to develop a mobile app. Sure it wasn't on an iOS or Android platform, but it was just as effective.

The paper-size tablet displayed 22 icons -- the consonants -- etched on a clay interface; the six vowels were spoken. That simple solution bridged the complex language barriers and deep cultural gaps of the tribes and civilizations that lived around the Mediterranean Sea in 1,500 BCE. It empowered the seafaring Phoenicians to trade with those who were different than they were. And it propelled them to become a trading, economic force for centuries.

Europe and America were built out from churches that formed the center of towns and cities. Like the hub of a wheel, the spokes of communities and infrastructure were built around houses of worship. Today, data rules the market for consumers, corporations, institutions and governments. Data has become the new epicenter.

"The paradigm is shifting. In the past, churches were first, followed by the community. Now the datacenter will come first with the community built around it connected to the smart grid for power," Lex Coors said in a phone interview from his native Holland. "When this model is scaled we'll be on our way to build a super grid. Today, China is constructing 65 to 75 new cities and those communities will all be built around datacenters."

That bold vision is not some near, post-modern view of the future. It's a reality being planned, designed and built today from Mid-East to Asia. Big data and mobility are driving the dramatic and dynamic shift.

Interxion and the European Cloud
Lex Coors, who is the VP of Datacenter Technology and Engineering Group and Chief Engineering Officer of Interxion, a Dutch datacenter builder and operator, represented one half of the interview with the leading cloud provider in Europe. The other half of Interxion's team that I met was J.F. van der Zwet, Global Marketing Manager for the Cloud.

At the Cloud East Expo in New York City, van der Zwet and I discussed the fragmentation of Europe -- "It's not one market," he reminded me -- and the new era of green, sustainable, more efficient datacenters. In the latter, is where Lex Coors spoke on the new types of datacenters that are being developed in Europe. So getting both a marketing and engineering perspective (my background is in construction) was a minor coup in telling Europe's cloud story.

"Interxion provides direct access to a big public platform to push into the market. That's an important feature in Europe. It's how we accelerate business through local channels, SLA-based services, local availability for their customers, so they can say they are in Europe," Coors explained.

Lex Coors has supervised the design, build, and upgrade of more than 590,000 sf of Interxion datacenter space in 34 locations and 11 countries. He is one of the 360 employees.

In Europe and the United States, since few new cities will be built in the future, the focus on datacenters in the West is all about location. IT challenges in the mobile community have to be addressed, like adding more Wi-Fi hotspots (there are 250 of them in Europe). For Interxion the focus is on mobile-centric organizations, finding where to strategically locate datacenters and their IT infrastructures.

Colocation -- placing multiple related entities in one location -- has been critical for the trading strategies of Wall Street. To achieve low latency for the millions of transactions, datacenters are located within a few blocks of the downtown financial market.

For Interxion's state-of-the-art datacenters they are built and maintained with the same exacting design: Power connections with full backup, cost-effective cooling -- part of their green initiative -- advanced fire and water detection systems and "multi-layer security to protect your data."

International Standards Organization (ISO-27001) and the British Standard (BS-25999) certify their datacenters.

Push for the Green Cloud

Lex Coors explained:

Future datacenter colocations will look different than they do today. They will use less water. Today, wherever we build new datacenters will be based on a location near sustainable energy. It's where our customers want to go. We use saltwater aquifers, 400 feet below the surface with large, slow moving layers of water, which move only a few feet a year.

We take the cold water out of that layer, run it into the datacenter for cooling, and then return the pumped hot water layer, which we create a pond 120 yards away from the aquifer. And there it will stay until the climate (season) changes. When the water cools down naturally, we put it back into the cold water layer. This way we don't impact the natural condition of the water source.

In deep lakes, after using the water to cool the datacenter, you just can't pump the hot water back into the lake. There are ASHRAE standards TC9.9 to follow. That means the datacenter has to be as close to the lake as possible.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in 2011 published its Thermal Guidelines for Data Processing Environments--Expanded Datacenter Classes and Usage Guidance.

There are mission critical facilities to be more sustainable. Can we use less electronic equipment? Can we use seawater? What about tap water at the local level? Whatever water is used it must be done in a sustainable way. Change the types of spraying from in the coil to outside the coil, and we get very low water usage.

Mr. Coors said Interxion looked at geothermal wells. "But they come not without risk. When drilling a geothermal well down 5,000 feet below grade in Basel, Switzerland, it created an earthquake." The $60 million project to tap into the hot bedrock beneath Basel, he referred to, was shutdown permanently in December 2009. There is also a new study out from UC Santa Cruz on the same earthquake issue with CalEnergy geothermal drilling.

"Interxion builds three different types of datacenters. Colocation switchbox with 10-20 MW IT load and 10-20 MW of heat. Then there are the big ones with 80-100 MW datacenters. And the small corporate datacenters that only require 1-5 MW of energy," he explained.

Interxion, like other cloud providers, gets together to share and collaborate on ideas. "We look to work together internationally on energy topics. There's a lot of good international cooperation. It brings more value to our customers, to do it in an open source way," he said.

Open source, from software to society, is the standard European model.

Growing Their Cloud Footprint
On the client side, J.F. van der Zwet said Interxion was the first European cloud provider to do an IPO in 2011. "Datacenters and the storage and security of data differ in each country. You need to be a local provider, understand the local culture, as much as the rules and regulations. We just opened datacenters in Frankfurt and Copenhagen," van der Zwet said.

In Europe, Interxion sees itself as unique: "We have our own design and engineering team. We have a team in the datacenters. Our design-build approach to development seeks to evolve datacenter knowledge, while continuously improving technologies to find ways to become more green. To date, our datacenters have never gone dark," Mr. van der Zwet said.

On the misperception of the EU being one Europe, he replied: "Regarding data privacy aspects, Europe is not one market. Each counter has its own data privacy rules, which are controlled and enforced locally. Private sensitive information is stored within a country's borders. In Switzerland, there are proximity issues within the each states' borders."

Interxion is looking at system integrators to provide direct access to the enterprises, which are siloed. "We understand Europe. We come up with similar services across the different markets. This allow us to be a big accelerator in Europe," van der Zwet said.