Was Bahnhof’s theming of their Pionen data center a good idea?

February 16th, 2011 | Posted by admin in Bahnhof | Editorial

Entrance to Bahnhof's Pionen Data Center

Bahnhof’s Pionen “White Mountain” data center is proclaimed by their former CEO and now Chairman, Jon Karlung, as “probably the most well known server center in the world”. Understandably, when you’re labled as “The James Bond Villian Data Center” you’ll get a lot of interest. But now that the facility is a few years old, and with some of the luster worn off with time, it then begs the question: “Will the facility stay in business?”

All newly opened data center facilities want to have new tenant’s under contract to help offset the high capital expenditures required to build the facility. As a telco provider, Bahnhof likely had some customers to put into the new facility at the time it opened (quite possibly the .st TLD described here). With the global attention the uniquely themed facility has drawn, it appears that Bahnhof’s strategy to fill the data center was to attract an international audience.

Inside Bahnhof's Pionen Data Center

As cool as the facility may look, companies really want to know details about connectivity, redundancy, power density and customer service and downtime reports. From looking over their data sheet and facility website their services seem to be pretty standard for a good facility, with the exception of their excellent connectivity through a private network (Bahnhof is the oldest and largest Internet provider in Sweden). From the data sheet and website we see Gigibit ports, (2) 1.2MW backup generators (repurposed from retired German submarines), raised (submersed?) floor cooling, and a 1.5 MW cooling system.

The facility appears to be solid in their colocation solutions with excellent connectivity, but there isn’t any compelling evidence that they are any better than the other facilities in Stockholm. The major difference appears to be the thematic aspect of a cold-war era bunker, and as to whether that is better is debatable. While playing up the cold-war era theme may have been the experience that they were going after in the first place, it is likely that they may not have realized what type of colocation customer would respond to it best. Global web hosting companies seem to be a dime a dozen these days but when one of them says that you can host your website or servers in a cold-war era James Bond Villian / Sci-fi themed data center, with awesome pictures to back it up, customers will jump at it.

Directly affecting Pionen’s success as a data center are Sweden’s policies towards copyright infringement. Currently, hosting companies in Sweden are not obligated to take action on a DMCA request as it is U.S. legislation (the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act). So content that would be required for a hosting company or ISP to shut down in the U.S due to copyright infringement is somewhat permissible under Swedish law (most notably The Pirate Bay however has had some issues with copyright infringement and the Swedish law, so the permissibility does have its limits).

A sample within which a few websites could be considered to violate U.S. copyright infringement policies and that are also hosted in Stockholm, Sweden can be found here: http://en.wikipopia.org/as42708. Bahnhof’s AB network serves as an uplink to Portlane Networks and if both were located in the U.S. rather than Sweden, both Bahnhof AB and Portlane Networks could be liable for distributing any content that violates U.S. copyright laws.

Although it is known that websites requiring favorable copyright infringement policies flock to Sweden for hosting, some websites such as wikileaks.org, a website made famous for leaking government secrets, hosts in the Pionen facility as a fitting tenant for a James Bond Villian / Sci-fi theme.

A significant, compelling reason to have a PoP or colocation presence at the Pionen facility may be the close proximity to Sweden’s Internet backbone. Pionen connects directly to all national Netnod-nodes and to NIX in Norway, DIX in Denmark and AMS-IX in Amsterdam. Pionen also connects directly to Bahnhof’s own terabyte network, with its major hubs at 50 different main cities in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, as well as to Bahnhof’s other data centers in Malmö, Borlänge, Lund and Stockholm.

The fact that the facility is located 30 meters under bedrock likely would not appeal to the security conscious data center customer as much as it does to the theme entertained customer. The reasoning is that someone truly seeking a data center facility that could survive an indirect hit from an atomic bomb wouldn’t want a presence in a facility that is so well known, with an interior that has been so well documented.

Given the great Internet connectivity and a world-renowned James Bond / Silent Running / Sci-fi theme, Bahnhof’s Pionen White Mountain data center illustrates expert knowledge on brand positioning. Whether by luck or a brilliant brand strategy, Bahnhof’s Pionen White Mountain data center has masterfully created a data center experience that leverages their high connectivity with Sweden’s copyright infringement policies. This experience appeals tremendously to web hosting companies and ISP’s who facilitate the distribution of content that would not be allowed in many places around the world. Whether or not Bahnhof wanted that position, they certainly own it with the Pionen White Mountain data center, and it’s not likely that they’ll be out of business any time soon.

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24 Responses

  • Ron Driggs says:

    I found this very cool. I think it’s a great idea because it really sets them apart and appeals to a certain clientele. And also, it’s just awesome!

  • Alysha Kester says:

    I love the theme- but the point made regarding the center being very well-known, interior well-documented and services being relatively comparable to other good data centers, I can see how easily they have fallen into a niche. Improving technical and/or service levels to really set them apart is where I think they would find more profits – and stay super-cool.

  • Beccy says:

    The design is beautiful and really well done, but it seems like it distracts from the overall purpose of a Data Center. If I were a potential client I would be turned off by the gimmick.

  • Greg Swain says:

    I thought it was a smart Idea to grab the attention of the media with this unique design. Already having the qualifications of a good Data Center, the look is just the cherry on the top.

    • todd says:

      I agree. It’s a great way to get people talking. And they’ve got the media interested. They’ve pretty much figured out a way to make their company market itself just by its design.

  • Jake Wilson says:

    What company wouldn’t want to feel like they were working in their own mountain lair? If this facility has comparable colocation solutions to other data centers, the cold-war era bunker gimmick will set them apart for sure!

  • I definitely like the layout and theme of their Data Center. The way they themed their facility just builds upon their current qualifications for a good Data Center.

  • Nic LeCheminant says:

    I like the overall look of it. Like Greg said above, they seem to be a good data center apart from the looks so that’s all just an extra bonus. It’s a good way to get companies to fill up the center.

  • This is too cool. I’m sure they have great security because of the nature of the site. Its just great when the old structures from war and history are reused in creative ways. As long as their equipment runs well they will do just fine. I can’t see any cons to reusing an existing structure as a data center.

  • Nick Fivas says:

    I think the theme idea is a fresh and interesting idea. Its not everyday that you go into a building with a theme and original looking layout. If they improve even more on the technical side of the connectivity reliability they are set for long term customers.

  • Brandon Swain says:

    This was a really interesting article and I think the theme that they have used in this data center was a great idea. Besides having great connectivity and service, the theme that they have employed to the data center is just something more to bring to the table. Very cool.

  • Sterling says:

    I like the theme. It certainly appeals to my inner nerd. I’d like to see a data center with retro-future or cyberpunk inspired motif.

    • Mitchell says:

      It certainly is appealing to my nerdy side, But nerd or not I think just about anyone could appreciate such a cool idea. The more future looking the better in my opinion.

  • Jake Wilson says:

    I can understand Beccy’s view that the gimmick could distract from the purpose of a data center and may be a turn off for some potential clients. Where one’s livelihood is concerned, there would be an effort to not be drawn in by looks alone. Possibly avoiding the aesthetic appeal all together.

  • curiosa863 says:

    If the data center is still running and the customers are happy I don’t think it is a bad idea. Not the kind of facility I would want to be in. I think you’ll see more and more niche data centers as the market continues to get saturated though. Watch someone get a few good sports properties as tenants and you’ll see a sports themed facility. I’m sure there is a demand for it.

    • Nick Fivas says:

      I would agree that to some potential clients this would make them go somewhere else for there data center needs. I also agree that a lot of people would like the idea of a sports themed facility.

  • todd says:

    I think the idea of having a themed data center is a unique and effective marketing ploy, but gimmicks will never compensate for solid and reliable services and facilities. If they provide the latter, then as far as marketing goes, I believe they’ve hit the nail on the head.

    • Alysha says:

      How do they expand their customer base? Yes, they have the attention of the media and recognition world-wide, but how do they effectively market their ability to be something other than just a cool place with the same services of many other data centers?

  • Richard says:

    The theme of this data center is pretty cool and it does appeal to a specific group of people. But building it that way had to be pretty pricey and those costs get passed on to their clients. I think most customers would be happy at a regular data center.

  • Namtr0 says:

    I like it! and if the only effect it has is to get attention, well it has been a success. I think the media coverage on it was a great way to let people know about not only the data center, but also the copyright laws that it doesn’t have to follow :) now people know that and know where to host there shady websites…..in the evil mountain lair data center MUAHAHA!

  • jimmy corn says:

    Pirate Bay could care less and Pionen couldn’t care less about copy right infringement because it has diplomatic immunity because it is the Pirate Party’s own data center! So it doesn’t matter if Swedan gets more strict copy right laws they can’t touch them!

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