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

Bahnhof Data Center

bj78 bahnhof internet serverhallen pionen 19 jan 2010 stockholm sweden jobb : pionen intrešr & extrišr bilder med personal customer : bahnhof ab foto : roger schederin www.studiolighthouse.se tel : + 46 70 515 46 70 agent : kontinent.se scanpix code: 3114

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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