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TopDutch: The land of sustainable supercomputing

The TopDutch region has, for a long time, been at the top of the Netherlands when it comes to digital business activities. That makes sense. The University of Groningen has renowned technical facilities, including supercomputers. This resulted in several start-ups that can transform this data. The relatively young population ensures a steady stream of talent. And because the government and educational institutions recognized the opportunities at an early stage, digital activity has developed here on a different level. Merged with being a powerhouse in sustainability and green energy, the TopDutch region is truly the land of sustainable supercomputing and data centers.

The Center for Information Technology at the University of Groningen

Nestled in the academic hotspot of Groningen is an unsuspecting building, the Center for Information Technology (CIT) from the University of Groningen, housing a unique data canter. CIT is an internationally renowned ICT institute with a series of supercomputers at its heart, that support groundbreaking scientific research. ‘What’s special about the CIT is that we also serve social parties and the business community’, says Project Manager Haije Wind. ‘New services with algorithms, or other Big Data-based technology can be tested on our supercomputers, for example’.

The CIT has existed for forty years. It was founded to support data-based scientific research in fields such as astronomy, biology, chemistry and medicine. ‘Due to our exceptional computing power, we’ve always been able to extract value from a lot of unstructured information. We see structures, discover patterns. In recent years, our services have shifted more and more towards data science: Statistical processing and machine learning. Our in-house data analysts work together with scientists and industry. This is how new insights and applications are created.’

Examples include applications in digital medicine, data processing of 5G applications, new technologies based on image recognition, and developments with numerous sensors such as predictive maintenance.

The Google data center in the TopDutch region

Big in big data

The CIT is far from the only impressive data center in the TopDutch region. The Northern Netherlands is actually a hotspot for some of the most innovative and important data centers in the world. Google in Eemshaven and Bytesnet in Groningen are the most well-known of a whole series of data centers in the TopDutch region. Google opened up one of its five centers in Europe in Eemshaven back in 2016. Since then, the mega-complex was then expanded twice more, investing billions of euros, and employing some 250 people. Why Eemshaven? For a few obvious reasons. First of all, the availability of land and its location by the sea is ideal. Another important factor is that in Eemshaven that the gigantic amounts of energy required can be, and is, supplied 100% by renewable energy; generated in the wind and solar parks in the vicinity. Eemshaven was Google’s first data center in the world that managed to achieve this.

Bytesnet also does storage, but offers much more. The company in Groningen keeps a part of its modern premises for an innovation incubator. ‘In addition to co-building sustainable supercomputing power and data storage, we must also be thinking about innovative ideas and business models. That’s where the real added value lies for us,’ says their director, Peter de Jong.

They have innovation labs where their researchers work together with business and educational institutions in order to develop new services and improving existing technology. Within the region, but also internationally. The High-Performance Consortium (HPC), a collaboration between top international players like FTL systems, DDN systems and Asperitas, is one of them.

Bytesnet facilities

The ambitions are great. ‘By enabling the processing and storage of Big Data for multiple market players,’ says De Jong, ‘new discoveries can be made that will contribute to our daily lives. From major issues such as solving global diseases like cancer and dementia, to discoveries away in the universe, they all depend on large-scale data processing. Also, self-driving cars or machinery that use sensors for maintenance both depend on data. From now on, all these developments will be brought together by the HPC consortium in a sustainable and unique business model.’

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