Data centers in Spain: why our online lives in Spain have to go through Madrid | Science and technology


At first glance, no one would think that the Julián Camarillo Industrial Park, in Madrid’s San Blas neighborhood, would be the area with the most internet traffic in the entire Iberian Peninsula. In this north-eastern part of the capital, cars double-park in front of auto repair shops and the place is deserted at nightfall, with little sound except Latin music drifting from a school of dancing and loud noises emanating from a couple of boxing clubs.

But the Julián Camarillo Park is also the headquarters of the data centers where Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Disney host their servers. “About 65% of Internet data that circulates in Spain and Portugal passes through here,” explains Robert Assink, managing director in Spain of the Dutch multinational Interxion, a giant in the data center sector.

The seemingly indescribable buildings in the surrounding area have garnered little interest over the past 20 years. But new technologies, such as 5G, augmented reality, and autonomous vehicles, have increased the need for storage, making data centers a critical infrastructure for the digital economy.

Interxion is currently setting up the largest data center in Madrid there. It measures 35,000 square meters spread over four floors and will be held on the abandoned site once occupied by slot machine maker Recreativos Franco. Like all data centers, it will be a large computer refrigerator, which will be placed under seven layers of security with disaster protection measures. For everything to work, you have to keep the center cold and avoid accidents. If anything happened to these machines, Spain would stop.

A construction worker in front of the MAD4 site, the new Interxion data center in the Julián Camarillo industrial zone. Victor Sainz

Due to the evolution of the Internet, investment funds have developed a voracious appetite for investing money in data centers. This interest has made Julián Camarillo an “area with enormous growth potential,” according to Knight Frank, a London-based real estate consultant. Meanwhile, US real estate consultancy CBRE calls it a “relevant area of ​​Madrid” that is experiencing “real estate dynamism”. To optimize the attractiveness of the district, a group of real estate entrepreneurs proposed to rename it Madbit, with the aim of attracting an ecosystem of technology companies, like Silicon Valley does. “We have already met the mayor [José Luis Martínez Almeida] and he agrees with the new name, ”said Juan Barba, president of the Madbit association. The idea of ​​renaming the area reflects Barcelona’s renaming of the former industrial district of Poblenou, District @ 22, which is now considered the most technological district in Spain.

Madrid’s innovation advisor Ángel Niño confirmed to EL PAÍS that the town hall is indeed considering the suggestion. “We are open to formally assess the proposal and work for its eventual implementation,” he said. If the initiative is successful, the big loser would be Julián Camarillo, an investor who promoted the urbanization of eastern Madrid at the turn of the 20th century. As a consolation prize, his name would remain on a street that crosses the industrial park.

The golden mile of data centers

The district has the ideal conditions to become the “golden mile” of data centers, according to real estate and IT experts: good connectivity to the country’s fiber-optic backbone, a ring of major freeways that surround it; access to significant electrical power necessary for cooling the servers; and proximity to a large mass of users – it is eight kilometers from Madrid’s central point, the Puerta del Sol.

This last factor is essential for users of new Internet technologies, explains Ignacio Llorente, specialist in IT architecture. The key is latency, the delay between the click and the visual or audio response. When it comes to viewing a website, it doesn’t matter if the servers have a slight delay from being located further away, but a self-driving car can’t wait a second for information to arrive from a server in Tokyo. . .

“In augmented reality or in autonomous driving, there should be a latency of one or two milliseconds at most,” says Llorente, CEO of data center software company OpenNebula. “This is only possible with data centers close to the user. If it’s more, it’s not good. The significant latency of servers located away from users occurs because data cannot travel faster than the speed of light. For example, it typically takes around 40 milliseconds to receive information from Paris.

Spain, like the rest of the developed world, is experiencing a data center boom. The emerging industry association, Spain DC, is planning an investment of 5 billion euros over the next five years. The sector, which uses electric capacity as a means of measurement, now has around 200 megawatts of installed power across Spain and plans to reach 500 megawatts within a year and a half.

Madrid’s two main data centers are in Julián Camarillo and Alcobendas. Spain DC anticipates that future projects will be installed not only in these two hubs, but also in the entire northeast area, around the A-1 and A-2 highways, as this area can connect the traffic of submarine cables landing to the Portuguese coast. According to Llorente, any location in the Madrid metropolitan area would be optimal as none would exceed the threshold of one or two milliseconds.

Interxion’s new data center in the Julián Camarillo industrial zone is a very expensive building that will cost 230 million euros, due to all the security measures necessary to prevent the Internet shutdown on the peninsula. These include air conditioning, fire protection, and up to five security perimeters between the front door and the servers. This company has three other centers in the industrial park that consume nearly 52 gigawatt hours per year (one gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts), making Interxion the ninth largest consumer of electricity in the entire Madrid region, according to an analysis of Consultores Energéticos. Integrals. Interxion points out that 100% of this energy comes from renewable sources. When they complete their fourth center, they will have an installed capacity of 45 megawatts, enough to power a city of 100,000 inhabitants.

An employee at Interxion's MAD1 data center operates a server.
An employee at Interxion’s MAD1 data center operates a server. Victor Sainz
Robert Assink, Managing Director Spain of Interxion.
Robert Assink, Managing Director Spain of Interxion. Victor Sainz

The interiors of Interxion’s data centers have a futuristic feel: corridors with computer towers line up one behind the other. Internet content companies rent space to host their servers here. Interxion’s Managing Director in Spain, Robert Assink, compares its data centers to Madrid’s Barajas Airport. Interxion is like the Aena State Air Authority and its approximately 400 customers are the airlines that pay to park their planes. As with air traffic, Madrid is the hub of all Internet connections, hence the importance of this district. “All the traffic on the peninsula goes through Madrid, even if it goes from Cadiz to Barcelona,” says Assink. Its new data center, which will be ready by the end of 2022, will be located in Terminal 4 of the airport. The activity is dynamic: they plan to invoice around 45 M € in 2021, i.e. 13 M € more than in 2018.

Outside, the Julián Camarillo industrial park has not yet lost its air of decadence. Appeared in the 1960s, it has been in decline for about twenty years. Large companies such as Telefónica, Indra, Atos and PRISA (the publishing group of EL PAÍS) are located in the area, but there are also many dilapidated warehouses and offices. Who knows? Maybe data centers will give the neighborhood a boost, and the cool name will spark its rebirth.

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