AITech Interview with Erling Guðmundsson, COO of atNorth

Explore how AI impacts digital infrastructure and how atNorth is shaping a sustainable future for data centers in the Nordics.

What impact does AI have on Digital Infrastructure?

There are currently two megatrends that are dominating global business. The first is the explosion in the use of AI as businesses strive to increase productivity and operational efficiencies. The second is the worsening climate crisis and the financial impact of increasing energy costs. 

Data centers that are built to cater for this type of High Performance Computing (HPC) require powerful systems with significant cooling requirements that involve the use of large amounts of energy at considerable costs. The amount of energy required to upgrade legacy data centers to HPC standards is vast. If every data center upgraded to adhere to HPC specifications, the world would experience a serious energy crisis. 

At the intersection of these two mega trends is the data center, and choosing the right one can not only future proof against technological advancements but also significantly reduce a business’s environmental impact. With infrastructure cooling being responsible for 40 percent of the total electricity cost of most data centers, this coupled with ever increasing energy prices have led organizations to consider the physical environment where their data center sites are located. 

Using data centers in countries that have a cool and more consistent climate, such as the Nordic region, have the capability to provide high-density air and liquid cooling solutions that ensure temperature and humidity levels within the data center are maintained more efficiently. These solutions reduce energy outputs and ultimately decrease the overall carbon footprint and cost to the business.

Why are the Nordics emerging as a leading location for the data center industry?

The importance of location is becoming more and more prevalent in data center decision making today. The Nordics are emerging as a safe, sustainable, and superior place to house today’s enterprise data. This is due to several factors – from the region’s abundant access to renewable power resources to its close-knit government community structure that speeds innovation and supports sustainability initiatives like data center heat recovery.

In addition, the Nordic region produces a surplus of renewable energy, made available to global data center operators as a green alternative to carbon-producing sources. Its use of renewable energy is embedded in the region’s history where hydropower, wind energy production, and geothermal sources produce renewable energy for these countries, making it a safe and desirable location for global organizations to house their workloads.

The region also benefits from improved cost stability compared to countries that traditionally rely on fossil fuels, given the price of renewable energy won’t be as affected by economic upheaval, political disruption, or regulatory changes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Nordics have the right infrastructure in place to continue to help businesses navigate the global energy crisis, drive clean energy transformation and power the next generation of data centers. 

How does atNorth help organizations future-proof their data infrastructure?

We are a fast-moving company in an incredibly dynamic market. We are committed to expanding our footprint and building future-proofed, sustainable data center operations across the Nordics in a way that supports our customers and the surrounding environment.

The Nordic region is developing into a European hub for the data center industry due to key factors such as abundant land resource and space, reliable power supply, international connectivity and low energy prices. This has been driving a surge in organizations moving their HPC and AI workloads to the Nordics. While many other markets are constrained with site availability, facility and rack space, and increasing energy costs, the Nordics is a safe haven offering efficiencies, performance and a perfect climate to deploy within.  

Clients such as BNP Paribas and Shearwater Geoservices have migrated portions of their IT workload to atNorth data centers in Iceland, with BNP Paribas achieving a reduction in energy consumption by more than 50%, and an 85% decrease in CO2 output and Shearwater Geoservices achieving a 92% reduction in CO2 output and an 85% reduction in cost. These businesses have future-proofed themselves against increasing energy demands and the associated costs, not to mention adherence to ESG targets and ever evolving technology requirements.

How is atNorth addressing the increased demand for HPC & AI workloads?

HPC is a fast growing market – it’s estimated that the high performance computing market could be worth $90 billion by 2032. We see huge, untapped potential in this space to provide better services for data-heavy organizations that rely on HPC for their most critical business operations. This is why we recently announced the acquisition of Gompute, as we continue to fast forward our business with a full-stack solution specifically tailored for HPC & AI workloads to make sure we are at the top of our game to service our customers. 

Similarly, we are currently building three new data center campuses; DEN01, a 30MW data center in Copenhagen, Denmark and FIN02, a 25 MW data center in Helsinki, Finland and FIN04 a megasite in Kouvola, Finland. The FIN04 site will have an initial capacity of 60MW but includes a pathway to power to several hundred megawatts when fully built.

All three sites are specifically designed for high performance workloads and are located on sizable plots to allow atNorth to scale effectively with client demand.

Our goal is to continue to strengthen our business and provide a pathway for continued innovation – from the solutions and services we offer to the expertise and skill we bring to our workforce.

What are the new innovations driving change at the data center development level?

Clean energy, cheaper power alternatives, low power usage effectiveness (PUE), and heat reuse advantages to name a few – all of which the Nordic region has become synonymous with. Add to this: better connectivity, lower latency, and larger capacity availability across rack and cabinet space and cooling capabilities such as direct liquid cooling (DLC), immersion, rear-door cooling, and geothermal cooling techniques.

Another factor central to supporting power and cooling efficiencies is the deployment of heat recovery. For example, atNorth’s data center campus in Stockholm, Sweden is a first-of-its-kind data center with a primary cooling system designed for heat recovery. The SWE01 campus captures the heat outputs generated by the site’s data halls, capturing up to 85% of the outputs in some cases. This innovative use of recycling the waste outputs from data center facilities through nearby energy grids can provide heat and hot water for surrounding communities in a way that reduces the carbon footprint and bottom line for data centers and organizations alike while also giving back to the community in a sustainable manner.

Our SWE01 campus is a good example of a purpose-built facility that has been designed and architected from the ground up with the space and capacity available that supports the needs of organizations right now while also enabling them to have the flexibility to scale up or down in line with business peaks and troughs. As organizations look to reduce operational costs, lower their overall TCO, and meet sustainability initiatives, the Nordics are proving a reliable home, providing the best possible infrastructure to support digitalization and drive an environment-first approach to sustain increasingly crucial sustainability initiatives. 

How can we future proof the next generation of data center infrastructure with data growth, high performance compute, and the environment top of mind?

We are only at the cusp of what technology and digitalization is capable of – first and foremost, we need to align as an industry to create meaningful changes that will stand the test of time and innovation. The data center industry is clearly a fundamental part of our global society and integral to our lives today – from social media and streaming media to working processes and even much greater capabilities such as prediction analytics and driverless cars!

We need to pull together to create common goals for our industry. While there is certainly a lot of competition here, and we all want to be successful in our own right, there are several aspects of our businesses that should be collaborative so that we can help shape the overall outcomes and future of the industry.

Those of us that work in this industry know that we are lucky – we have the opportunity to shape the future of the digital world in a way that can support our planet for future generations to come. But with this, we also have a duty to make it the best it can be, to reduce the burden of it on the world, and to make it more efficient by collaborating and sharing the elements that will enable improvements to be made.

At atNorth, we really believe that we can have more compute and a better world if we work together

Erling Guðmundsson

COO, atNorth

Erling joined atNorth’s executive team in 2023 bringing 25 years of experience in the telecom and IT industries across Europe. An award winning and inspirational leader, he is renowned for maintaining high professional standards and Erling joined atNorth’s executive team in 2023 bringing 25 years of experience in the telecom and IT industries across Europe. An award winning and inspirational leader, he is renowned for maintaining high professional standards and progressing high-performance teams to deliver exceptional customer service. Before joining atNorth, he served as the CEO of Reykjavik Fibre/​Ljósleiðarinn, where his leadership left a lasting impact. His vast experience and unique skill set promotes operational excellence and drives the continued growth and success of the company.

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