Kolos co-CEO: Community support ‘key’ to make world’s biggest datacentre plans a reality

Norwegian startup Kolos recently went public with its plans to build the world’s biggest datacentre, and the company’s co-CEO explains why community support matters to a project like this

Community engagement will be essential to ensure plans to build the world’s biggest and greenest datacentre in the Arctic Circle come to fruition, it has been claimed.

The project is the brainchild of startup Kolos, which went public this month with its plans to build a four-storey, 600,000m2 datacentre in the Norwegian town of Ballangen that will draw on the region’s sizeable supply of hydropower to run.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Kolos co-founder and co-CEO Håvard Lillebo said construction is due to start in 2018, with the design side of the build being overseen by US firm HDR.

Kolos initially received designs from the world’s “top 10” datacentre architects for the project, but HDR’s proposal won the day because of its community appeal, said Lillebo.

“It’s a project that lives or dies with the community because you have to integrate, and we wanted [a design] that would provide a very strong link to that,” he said.

While most of the site will be locked down and subject to the usual datacentre security controls, the main administration building will be offered as a meeting place for local residents to use, he said.

“We had world-leading architects [submit designs] and all of them knew datacentre design, but not all of them understood the importance of thinking with the community,” he said.

“It’s not a big black box, like a lot of datacentres are. A lot of datacentres are really ugly, and that was not what we wanted at all.”

The community also stands to benefit from the project economically, said Lillebo, both in terms of jobs and the follow-on investment it is likely to bring to the area.

“A lot of companies these days optimise to pay as little tax as possible, whereas we want to pay tax and want the community to thrive because we depend on the community to expand and get bigger,” he said.

“We are going to hire a lot of people to work in this centre, and they need houses, schools and restaurants, and there is a lot of stuff that needs to happen in the community to transform into the new age.”

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Given the site’s green credentials, Lillebo said the datacentre would be a good fit for any firm looking to make their IT operations more environmentally friendly, but – at the time of writing – no anchor tenants are lined up.

“We haven’t signed any contracts yet, because we need a construction date to do that, but we have a lot of interest and we don’t have any worries about that because the value proposition we have is so strong,” he said. “It’s not just green energy – it’s really cost-effective.”

In terms of the types of company Kolos is looking to attract, the firm is focused on creating a thriving colocation business, rather than sell the site on wholesale to one of the hyperscale cloud giants.

“We don’t want to sell the land [to a hyperscale firm] – we want to build a business,” said Lillebo. “We welcome Amazon and Google, if they would like to do something together with us, but our primary focus is colocation. We want to focus on the SMB market or the FT 990 – not necessarily the top 10.”

Initial funding

Initial funding for the project is from US-based investment firm Headwaters MB, which Lillebo claims has taken part in a series of datacentre-related deals over the past three years, together worth $12bn.

The Kolos team is still open to investment from other interested parties, said Lillebo. “We want to do this relatively fast, and I do believe there are a number of investors who see the value of contributing to such a project and they are welcome to contact us,” he added.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Steve Wallage, managing director of datacentre-focused analyst house Broadgroup Consulting, said that, solid value proposition or not, Kolos is likely to find this a difficult business to make work.

“Many of its key selling points are already shared by much more established and credible players in Norway, with better locations, as well as other Scandinavian markets,” he said.

“Attracting the ‘holy grail’ of large hyperscale cloud sites is incredibly challenging and requires lot of local and governmental support, which is going to be very hard to get in Norway.”

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