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Residents in Israel warn against wave of server farm construction

With Google and Amazon winning the tender for a Cloud region in Israel, more data centers will be coming, but some residents have concerns about the environment and quality of life.
Data center

On Oct. 19, Google announced it was opening a Cloud region in Israel, which should enable private companies and government agencies to store data locally. The move was the result of Amazon and Google winning the Israeli government’s mega-cloud tender called “Nimbus” last year.

Physically, these operations will be performed via server farms (data centers) in Israel. To date, there are two such facilities – one in Petah Tikva and one in Modi'in. Reportedly, Google is interested in establishing additional farms in Bnei Zion and in Kfar Yehoshua.

Data centers require large physical spaces since they are a collection of servers through which cloud services are provided. In addition, various groups prefer, and sometimes require, that their data is physically stored within the boundaries of a country. These server farms must be available at any time, even during a natural disaster or power outage. 

Because of all of these factors, the server farm industry is growing faster than traditional real estate. Large international companies are building local server farms in Israel for their cloud services, including Microsoft, Oracle, and Google.

The Israeli Azrieli company entered the business a few years ago. Recently, it acquired a London data center, a Norwegian company, and holdings in a Canadian company. It is also in the process of building a data center in Shoham, Israel, for Amazon. 

Another player in the Israeli field is a group owned by singer Omer Adam, which is now founding its third server farm in the country. 

But the avalanche of server farm construction has downsides. Some of the data centers in Israel end up not being used, because the entrepreneurs are not familiar enough with the technical knowledge required. Several of these sites "could turn into white elephants,” warns Yonit Goldberg, co-CEO of server farm consultant 11Stream.  

Another problem is server farms’ enormous consumption of energy, which creates environmental impacts. Israeli authorities have not yet produced specific reports on that, but in the US, these farms are responsible for 1.8% of the national electricity consumption and for 0.5% of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. 

Data centers also consume water to cool the server banks, which produce a huge amount of excess heat.

In recent months, residents of the Bnei Zion village, together with several green NGOs, have submitted petitions against the expected construction of the Google server farm there, most recently two weeks ago. The petitioners cite environmental considerations and claim that the public was not well informed beforehand on the dangers associated with the construction. According to the petitioners, no environmental survey was presented during the permit-request process.

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