When you think of data centers, you might imagine a huge server farm in a rural area where electricity is cheap and tax incentives are plentiful. Big tech companies like Google, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Meta have placed millions of square feet of server space in places like Northern Virginia or Hillsboro, Oregon. But now, to reduce lag time, companies are increasingly weaving nodes in their networks into urban fabric.For example, One Wilshire in Los Angeles, formerly home to a network of law firms, now oversees one third of internet traffic between the US and Asia.
To the uninitiated, these urban physical internet nodes may look nothing like. This is by design. Equinix is the largest owner of colocation data centers, with a 10.9% global market share, and it operates data centers that usually shouldn’t go unnoticed. In Dallas, the company owns a sprawling industrial building outside downtown that doubles as a data center hub and the headquarters of a for-profit university. In Tokyo, the company’s vice-president of business development, Jim Poole, said the business was mostly on floors in the city’s sea of skyscrapers, “so you wouldn’t even know it existed.” In Sydney, Australia, Equinix is building a new data center in an expressionist style that resembles the city’s famous opera house. Given that Amsterdam is a city of canals, Equinix built a moat around one of its facilities in Amsterdam — not so much for safety, Poole said, as to make the building match its surroundings. “In most cases, people actually do try to acclimate their buildings,” he said, adding that sometimes local regulators even require it.
Demand for such facilities, especially in urban centers, is growing rapidly: Spending on colocation data centers rose 11.7 percent last year. The biggest cloud companies are not far behind.Amazon Web Services has been pushing to shrink data centers, calling them local areas, close to major population areas; so far, it has placed them in 32 cities All over the US.The trend has even piqued Walmart’s interest, which could start soon rent Parts of its supermarkets host data centers for third-party companies.
One explanation for the surge in demand is that consumers themselves have changed, Poole said. As we live more and more of our lives online, “people’s tolerance for latency continues to decline,” he said. The main driver is those applications where millisecond latency can be critical: you might not notice quarter-second latency on Netflix, but if you use an online sports betting app, trade stocks, or engage in multiplayer games, you Games like Fortnite will definitely be noticed.
For example, companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft are betting on cloud gaming, which involves streaming games over the internet without the need for a console or phone to provide the processing power. However, many popular games, such as first-person shooters, “require a lot of fast reaction times and therefore require very fast connections,” said Jabez Tan, research director at Structure Research. Games like this wouldn’t work on streaming services without the help of massive data centers.