where do AWS, Google, and Microsoft store data?

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Cloud computing users, whether consumers, developers or corporate IT departments, rarely wonder where their data is stored. But, of course, these cloud services have a physical presence – a presence that is growing, as the demand for cloud services grows.

Technical monitor mapped the locations of data centers operated by the seven largest cloud providers in the market: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Alibaba and Tencent. This reveals where “the cloud” really is and where large-scale cloud providers are building their new facilities.

The majority of cloud data centers are located in well-known capitals, but that may soon change. (Photo by Meg Roussos/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, the majority of data centers are located in well-known capitals and financial centers: places like London and Frankfurt, Sydney and Singapore where high volumes of transactional data place a premium on cloud provider efficiency. computing.

However, concerns about sustainability are leading cloud providers to consider new locations previously overlooked due to their remoteness from financial action. This includes countries like Mexico and Saudi Arabia, where solar power offers a cheap, renewable energy source that can meet their electricity needs.

How data center locations are decided

Until recently, three main priorities determined where major cloud providers chose to locate their data centers: regulatory risk, proximity to demand, and freedom from environmental hazards.

The former has become an important consideration for the industry in recent years, says Emma Roscow, Accenture’s cloud infrastructure engineering manager, as the EU ensures global players take additional steps. to guarantee the protection of the personal data of its citizens.

“The European Union alone has 27 countries and 24 languages, many with their own local jurisdictions and regulations on how companies must collect, store and process data,” she says. “Many require citizens’ personal data to be processed within their borders, making the location of the data center crucial for compliance.”

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But perhaps the most important consideration when operating a data center is its availability, adds Roscow. “Cloud providers have targets and guarantee uptime of up to 99.995% in some cases,” she says. Geography is therefore a key factor. “Areas most prone to natural disasters are unsuitable because there is too much risk that an incident could knock them offline for long periods of time.”

Where are the data centers located?

It is therefore not surprising that the largest concentration of cloud data centers in Europe is in Germany, with the majority of them located in Frankfurt.

The seven cloud providers analyzed have all established data centers in the city, according to location data provided by Netskope. Blessed with a year-round mild climate, Frankfurt’s prospects as a cloud computing hub are also bolstered by hosting one of the world’s most developed internet exchange points, fueled by massive demand. fast data transfers that have accompanied Frankfurt’s development into a financial center. central.

“Some applications require data to be processed as close to real-time as possible, especially areas such as financial services,” Roscow says. “Traditional business centers are therefore still likely to remain key locations for data centers so that services are not limited by latency issues.” Other global financial centers like London also have a high concentration of cloud data centers, with six of the seven largest cloud providers based in the capital.

Cloud providers have also set their sights on building new data centers in other European capitals. Google data centers are planned in Milan and Turin, while Microsoft is looking to expand in Warsaw and Zurich. Amazon is also planning a new data center in Zurich, as well as in Madrid.

Meanwhile, in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia has one of the highest concentrations of data centers operated by the Big Seven, with a total of 21 spread across Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

This is partly due to the country’s ambitious cloud-first strategy launched in 2014, which mandated the use of cloud services in both the public and private sectors. Today, more than half of all businesses in Australia use paid cloud services, and there are public commitments to ensure that all government agencies in New South Wales have a quarter of their ICT services hosted on a public cloud by next year.

Singapore has also embarked on a cloud-first digital transformation effort, with significant results to show. To date, the city-state hosts the data centers of the seven major cloud providers and has the largest number of data centers in Southeast Asia, according to the data.

This is largely due to the 2018 launch of a five-year national project to migrate the bulk of government IT resources from on-premises infrastructure to the public cloud. According to Singapore’s government technology agency, more than 600 systems are now hosted on the cloud.

New access points for data centers are emerging

Big tech has also played an important role in upgrading Singapore’s cloud capabilities. In February, Microsoft announced a partnership with the innovation arm of government security agencies to develop a “sovereign cloud” that could provide high-speed network connectivity and advanced analytics for real-time data usage, enabling “faster incident response”. and decision-making”.

But other more isolated areas are also starting to appear as ideal locations to house data centers. This pivot, says Henry Ettinger, Infiniti’s head of IT services, is largely down to “concerns about renewable energy supply and what can be done to reduce their carbon footprint.”

In March, Microsoft announced the completion of a new data center in the Mexican state of Querétaro, a location the company described as the “new data center hotspot in Latin America” ​​and a “hub for ‘industry 4.0’ in the region. Querétaro also has all the features associated with other international cloud hotspots, including advanced LAN infrastructure, proximity to major economic centers, and low seismic activity.

The coastal desert city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia is another area other cloud providers are turning their attention to. In December 2020, Google announced that it was preparing to launch a cloud region in the country, with Dammam announced last year as the location of the company’s first data center in the country.

The continued rise of smart city projects in the region and the city’s proximity to several undersea cables, including Global Cloud Xchange’s Falcon and Trans Europe Asia system, also make it an ideal location for cloud hyperscalers. .

Where cloud providers are building green data centers

Building infrastructure that requires constant cooling processes in a desert city like Dammam might seem counter-intuitive – until you consider how much solar power can be obtained in the nearby Arabian Desert. . This is a potential that is already being realized in the construction of new solar power plants in the region by the Saudi government, intended to supply the region with up to one gigawatt of cheap renewable energy. In theory, this could also lead to better data center sustainability and reduced environmental impact.

Historically, data centers have been located in colder climates due to lower costs associated with cooling and ventilation,” says Roscow. However, rising energy costs in a changing climate are pushing cloud providers to consider new places to house their server racks. These considerations will only increase over time, Roscow adds, with demand for large-scale data centers expected to grow 14% year-over-year.

Solar isn’t perfect: after all, the sun shines brightest in some of the harshest environments on this planet. Even so, says Roscow, “as we see the proliferation of the cloud and different factors being prioritized by customers when choosing vendors, we can see the trend toward new locations continuing.

Read more: The role of cloud computing in the journey to net zero

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