Big Data Inside

Frankfurt RheinMain is the data stronghold of the continent. How so? And what opportunities does it offer? A glimpse behind the window-less façades of the computer center.

“Almost a billion for new computer centers,” “Google buys 23 hectare area in the east and southeast of Frankfurt,” “China Mobile opens data center in Mörfelden,” “Neckermann complex to become Digital Park” – hardly a week goes by without the media announcing new superlatives from the European data stronghold FrankfurtRhineMain. The reason: Frankfurt is home to the largest Internet hub in the world. Every e-mail, every video conference, and every streaming series operates via this hub. That is a great attraction for computer centers.

In the late 1990s, the De-Cix Internet Exchange was first set up. Since then, development has been in one direction only – upwards, and steeply. The Corona pandemic has given a further boost to digitization. Last autumn, the record of 10 Terabits per second was broken. That is equivalent to data from a 220-kilometer-high pile of A4 pages of written paper.

In and around Frankfurt more and more computer centers are popping up. They are the engine rooms driving the Internet; they are where data are processed and stored. Frankfurt and its surroundings alone boast some 60 large computer centers, and that does not include companies who have their own center such as Deutsche Bahn or Deutsche Bank. These so-called colocation data centers provide customers with the infrastructure for their data processing and transmission. So what exactly lies behind these mostly grey, window-less, multi-story buildings that are secured with high fences and barbed wire? 

“You can imagine it being like a rental apartment with a perfect internet connection,” says Holger Nicolay, Business Development Manager of Interxion, one of the leading colocation data center operators in Frankfurt. “There, too, you are provided with an infrastructure that you can use. It’s the same with us. The client brings their server, and we ensure he has an uninterrupted electricity supply, air conditioning, and security round the clock – not to mention a connection to the main fiber-optic networks in Europe and the world.”

With over 280 data centers worldwide, 20 of those in Frankfurt, Interxion is one of the leading colocation providers in Europe and on the Frankfurt data center campus accommodates the core infrastructure of the De-Cix Internet exchange hub. It is part of the company’s strategy to establish data centers at the locations of the large Internet hubs so as to keep latency, in other words the delay time of data transmission, to a minimum. “It might seem relatively unimportant if it takes a quarter of a second longer for an e-mail to arrive,” says Nicolay, “but for investment banks or in the health sector such delays make a considerable difference.”

And why is that it in the computer centers you hardly see any people bar the security staff? “We employ a lot of people who keep the operational side of the business up and running. That includes systems electricians as well as engineers, air-conditioning technicians, and facility managers. Alongside these technical professions there are numerous employees in the administrative section – in fact there are about 280 people in all. The entire team is involved before a client moves in here. After all, from the start the infrastructure has to be adapted to the client’s specific needs. Some arrive with 20 servers and need two server cabinets, a large public cloud provider like Microsoft or Amazon – entire lorry loads. That makes a difference not only to the electricity supply. But there, again, it’s hardly different to a rental apartment.”

Interxion was in the headlines recently because the company bought the former building and grounds of mail-order firm Neckermann in Frankfurt and wants to erect a Digital Park Fechenheim there – while observing heritage requirements. The plan is that soon up to ten new data centers will be realized there; the first clients are scheduled to move during the third quarter of 2022. And there is certainly a need for it as the big time of 5G, artificial intelligence and the Internet of things is still to come. What’s more, the Gaia-X European Cloud Initiative is gaining momentum. In building an independent data infrastructure the European Union seeks to become more independent of the American and Chinese cloud providers. Hessen has adopted a leading role in one sector and seeks to establish a financial big data cluster. The latter would combine financial data from corporations, public authorities and the world of science that were previously not combined to form a data pool so as to be better equipped for fighting say money laundering, tax evasion and insider transactions. But computing capacity will also have to be increased for Gaia-X. Frankfurt RheinMain is predestined to handle the task.

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