YIT has developed a concept that will both lessen the environmental burden of data processing and make life easier for tech companies in need of new data centers.

The volume of data we collectively create and consume is growing, and it is growing fast. A forecast made by International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates a growth to 175 zettabytes – or 175 trillion gigabytes – per year by 2025. To put that into perspective, in 2018 IDC estimated that the global datasphere has reached 33 zettabytes. The growth in data consumption goes hand in hand with the demands of internet-connected devices, media and video use and new data-hungry technologies like artificial intelligence, robots, IoT, and 5G.

It has become clear that tech companies and the data center industry need new facilities to house the mass of data that is being created and processed. Because data processing consumes more and more energy, they also need data centers that are sustainable and climate-efficient to meet the growing demands to be carbon neutral, or even carbon positive.

The “legacy data center” that was designed and constructed several years ago, was at the time a significant investment for the owner. Today they are a burden that can´t support today´s business need with high density, or meet the environment demands.

“YIT wants to play a significant part in the development of our digital society, and for that purpose, we are taking an active part in the development of a sustainable data center, that leaves minimum footprint from construction to deliver a clean cloud solution.  We want to provide our knowledge and co-develop the Data Center with our customer. YIT provides windfarms and the ability to reuse the waste heat, so that our customer can stay ahead of the curve instead behind it,” says YIT Sweden’s business and technical development manager Fredrik Sarvell.  

Combining wind power, waste heat and food production

As wind turbines, hydro power and even solar panels provide energy for the data center, the waste heat created by data processing is then in turn sold and transferred to a nearby greenhouse where it helps local farmers grow food products. It can also be sold and transferred to an existing district heating system where the need for fossil fuels can be reduced.

“We are looking into different ways of using the waste heat produced by data centers. In my opinion that is the key sustainability aspect in our concept. The excess heat needs to be recycled somehow. That’s why we need farmers as partners: if they can benefit by saving money from the heating, for example, it would interest them to be close to our data center,” Sarvell says.

“The process as a whole aims for net zero carbon footprint, so we can safely say that the result is a data center with minimal emissions.”

Tech companies get to concentrate on their core business

YIT has already built data centers in the Nordic countries. However, developing them is a much more complicated matter, according to Sarvell.

“When we are the constructor in a data center project, we just basically put it together according to the drawings. It’s a different thing to develop data centers from the very beginning. Then we’ll manage everything. The client doesn’t have to negotiate with a lot of different organizations – the only thing the client needs to do is to tell us what requirements and needs they have, and then of course they have to bring their racks and servers into the building.”

“Data center as a service means that we will take care of the operating aspects in planning, building and maintenance and let the clients concentrate on their core business. For example, if a fan breaks down in the cooling system, it is our business to make sure that fan will be up and running again as soon as possible,” Sarvell points out.

As part of the concept, YIT can also handle the relationships with the local municipalities in the Nordics. For example, it has already scouted certain locations in Sweden and a couple in Norway and Finland that are considered suitable places for building a data center. YIT will sort out the building permits in advance so they are already in place when the project gets the green light to move forward.

“We will plan and build the client’s data center according to local regulations, and we already have good relationships with the municipalities. From YIT, clients can get a price tag to a data center that is built and run with all the requirements they have and according to the local rules and regulations – as well as in a sustainable way.”

The quest for more sustainable Data Centers