Companies in the IT and financial sectors are quickly becoming the world’s biggest polluters. Servers distributing and storing data are using more and more energy. According to a recent Greenpeace report, Make IT Green, by 2020 data centres will be using more electricity than the populations of France, Germany, Canada and Brazil combined. Green data centres appear to be the remedy for energy-hungry servers and a growing number of companies are eyeing green technologies in order to prove their eco-friendly credentials.

Apart from Google, the global leader of the green-tech revolution, IBM has also made a significant advancements in green technology. The company, one of the world’s more prolific foreign investors, has invested 30m in green facilities in its Dublin-based IBM Technology Campus and is partnering GIB Services in developing a green data centre in Zurich. On top of that, IBM offers green IT consultancy for customers interested in eco-friendly IT solutions. These ventures are a part of the $1bn Big Green project, aimed at radically reducing energy use by IBM and its clients.

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Another internet giant, Yahoo!, is currently developing a new green data centre in upstate New York, while computer networking multinational Cisco has announced that it will open a similar project on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The financial sector has also shifted towards greener solutions with UK building society Nationwide launching a new data centre in Albany, Ohio. In addition, US bank Citigroup, recipient of the 2009 Green Enterprise IT Award for data centre facility design, has opened a new data centre in Frankfurt. Its green technologies implemented in Germany consume 30% less energy than traditional ones.

All eyes on Scandinavia Along with the ‘green rush’ towards eco-friendly data storage and dissemination, green data centre havens have also emerged. Scandinavia, thanks to its climate and developed infrastructure, is considered as the prime location for green data centres, especially for companies operating in Europe.

Finland and Iceland are currently leading the race for new green data centre developments, thanks to a series of recent investments. And Iceland, a country that has achieved infamy in recent years due to its wobbly financial market and even less predictable volcanoes, will soon be known as the world’s leading location for green data centres. The country’s abundance of hydro and geothermal power combined with its cold climate provide an almost free way of cooling servers, says Doug Mohney, editor-in-chief of greendatacenternews.org. It is also ideally located for companies with headquarters in either Europe or North America, as it lies halfway between the continents.

Buoyed by this explosion in business, the Invest in Iceland agency is helping to attract businesses interested in opening green data centres in the country. The efforts of the Icelandic government were crowned in May this year with the opening of Thor Data Center, developed by Opera Software. Opera’s new facilities, capable of handling 76 petabytes of data, constitute the country’s first renewably powered international data centre. Another green data centre, currently under construction, will be located in the former NATO Command Centre in Keflavik and is being developed by Verne Holdings, with Wellcome Trust as the equity partner.

Finland joined the race for green tech data centres when Academica, a local IT company, revealed its plan to build eco-friendly data facilities supplying heating to 1000 apartments in Helsinki. The data centre is a typical location – in a World War Two bomb shelter under one of Helsinki’s most famous landmarks, Uspenski Cathedral – created hype around the project. Finland made headlines again in February, when Google announced the building of a new data centre in a disused paper mill located in the Kymenlaakso region, in the south-east of the country.

“Google’s presence here has drawn attention to the fact that Finland has been underappreciated as a perfect location for green data centres, and we expect more and more data centre providers to come to our country,” says Noel McAvennie of Kainuun Etu Oy, a development agency based in the Kainuu region.

Attracting new investments in green tech facilities has become a matter of paramount importance for Kainuu authorities. As the country’s agricultural industry has declined, so too has the municipality’s population. However, the cool climate of the region, often cited as the reason for its waning fortunes, provides the perfect environment for green servers. Therefore, a radical shift towards green tech facilities is seen as a way to alter the economic situation of the region by creating new job opportunities for local residents. Kainuu authorities have now launched an Invest Kainuu project, oriented towards attracting FDI ventures in green tech facilities.

“Companies willing to invest in Kainuu can take advantage of generous EU funding, including a rebate of initial development costs of up to 35%. Additionally, the local government can grant significant subsidies and grants towards capital investments, particularly in cases of job creation,” says Mr McAvennie. The region’s authorities are at an advanced stage of talks with a number of data centre and cloud-computing service providers. The results of the negotiations will be announced in the third quarter of 2010.

Google’s presence here has drawn attention to the fact that Finland has been underappreciated as a perfect location for green data centres

On the other side of Atlantic, green data centres are springing up in the US’s north-west, particularly in the states of Oregon and Washington, which are already home to several large IT companies. Asia is also becoming the home for a growing number of green data facilities. Inconsistent energy supply from traditional sources has created a great demand for alternative sources of energy among Indian mobile providers and IT businesses. Malaysia, where Cisco is developing its green data centre, and the Philippines, where telecoms company Eastern Communications completed the country’s first green data centre earlier this year, have also made their mark on the green facilities map.

Tax breaks

Back in Europe, the Irish success in attracting clients such as IBM has alerted authorities and businesses in nearby Scotland. “A number of factors make Scotland an attractive location for green centres. Apart from weather conditions, Scotland is utilising wind, wave and hydro power as part of the Scottish energy grid,” says Andrew Rigby, founder of the Outsourcing Hub Initiative, which aims to attract businesses to establish their data centres in Scotland. Mr Rigby points out that companies that do so can also benefit from 100% first-year tax credits and a 100% allowance for low-impact and green technologies. Scottish ambitions to catch up with Ireland received a boost when it was revealed that Google is currently in talks with Scottish Development International to build a wave-powered data centre in northern Scotland. Microsoft and US bank Morgan Stanley are also involved in projects there.

As consumers become more and more environmentally aware, and companies become ever keener to show off their green credentials, renewable energy data centres will rise in importance and popularity. In addition to this, given that such centres help retain the positive image of a brand, reduce data storage and disseminations costs, and reduce pollution, the appeal of such centres is only likely to grow and grow.