Opinion

Will the internet run out of space (literally)?

Will the internet run out of space (literally)?

These days, a life without internet is unimaginable. Both on a work-related and a private level we are constantly interchanging information by means of the digital ecosystem. A malfunction in this ecosystem will cause many people to feel uncomfortable to say the least. Personally, I feel quite on edge when I’m not able to digitally connect to family and friends and I know many people in my network would feel the same.

But we’ve also seen what damage a digital malfunction can cause on a global level. Quite recently, on May 12th, more than 230.000 machines were brought down in 150+ countries by the WannaCry virus, causing chaos all over the world. Surprisingly, it was a 22 year old cyber security researcher who accidentally pushed the kill switch.

Where does the magic actually happen?

Reliant as we are on the internet, many people are not aware where all internet activities are – literally – housed. In essence, all digital data is transported through networks and stored and processed in data centers, highly secured buildings with redundant power supplies. That’s right, all pictures that are automatically uploaded from your phone to your iCloud are physically stored on a server in a modest, anonymous building that carries the name of a data center.

Even though there’s probably a data center near you, you’ll probably not have noticed one before as they’re not particularly flashy in appearance. However, their impact on society is gigantic. They facilitate all digital services and without data centers, the internet would come to a halt.

So what if there would be a fire outbreak and a data center burns to the ground? Would that mean the end of your iCloud pictures? Not really. Data centers are redundant, which means that the same piece of data is held in various places. They bear physical responsibility over your data and therefore you won’t have to worry.

Data explosion

In accordance with the exponential use of the internet, the data center sector has grown tremendously. In the Netherlands – the second largest data center hub in Europe – we have observed a steady double digit growth over the past years, adding up to a total floor surface of 283.000m2, of which 188.000m2 is located in Amsterdam. Last year alone, the Amsterdam area saw a growth of 30%. In total, the data center sector contributes more than €1 billion to the Dutch GDP and drives 20% of total foreign direct investments.

However, there is a big wall ahead of us. With the rise of the Internet of Things, AI and Big Data analytics, data growth is exploding. For example, imagine the load on our internet when we are all watching Netflix while using our self-driving cars?

We do not see that the build-up of data will outpace the build-up of data centers, but there are challenges ahead. This mostly has to do with energy supplies. More than 95% of the power used in the large data centers is green energy. However, (green) energy supply plans take time. Additionally, we’ve been short on skilled IT-personnel for years and our education systems are not at all prepared for the speed of our digital era.

Let’s lead the way

Together, we are responsible for a healthy digital environment. We need to ensure a high performing and safe digital environment that will contribute to the prosperity of our economy and society. An environment that is durable, reliable and enabled to grow without limitations. In order to do so, collaboration is more essential than ever. As we find there is a lot to wins to gain, we invite you to join the discussion:

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