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Last week, several major tech leaders announced the first Italian association for data center developers and operators. The organization, now known as the Italian Data Center Association or IDA , was formed with Microsoft, Equinix, Rai Way, Data4, STACK Infrastructure, Digital Reality, Vantage Data Centers and CBRE Data Centers as founding members. The partnership includes national and international tech leaders who have been tasked with representing Italy’s current data center community and Europe as a whole.

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To get more information about the new group, TechRepublic spoke to Emmanuel Becker, the managing director of Equinix Italia and the president of IDA, to discuss digital transformation and the association’s short and long-term goals. We also discussed ESG and other top priorities for the data centers of today and tomorrow.

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The European data center market

The IDA launch news comes as the number of European and Italian data centers continues to grow. In 2022, Statista reported that there were more than 2,900 data centers in Europe as of 2021. According to the Politecnico di Milano Observatory , Italy now ranks fourth in the region, with approximately 190 data centers worth around €3 billion and running with a total installed power of 300 MW. Combined, Europe is not only a leading region but a strategic global contributor to the data center market.

National and local European governments incentivize data centers with tax breaks, subsidized energy and support. However, a lack of standardization, increased privacy and data regulations, the rapid pace of innovation, and energy use and sustainability requirements have become significant challenges for the sector.

The first voice for Italy’s data centers

IDA’s first order of business is to increase recognition of the data center industry in Italy, developing a stronger community. IDA will serve as the first voice of data center developers and operators at the institutional level in Italy. The association will provide guidelines, support, education and upskilling for new technologies. It will also work to define standards and norms for the data center community.

While IDA is committed to the Italian sector, it will also focus on wider European and global data center initiatives.

“Italy is geographically perfectly positioned in the center of strategical digital corridors, between FLAP countries — with cities like Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Paris — that have an important digital weight, and new promising digital destinations such as the Middle East, the east African coast and the far east,” Becker said.

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He went on to explain some of the other reasons why Italy has become a strategic tech hub for this group.

“New important subsea cables landing in Italy are accelerating this advantage,” Becker said. “Italy has a digital education ecosystem, economic stability, high quality and knowledgeable digital professionals, various digital partners, and service providers building new north-south and east-west digital corridors.”

Despite its global vision, IDA recognizes it was created primarily to respond to digital transformation challenges that Italians face, with a spotlight on national IT infrastructure.

“National data center infrastructures are indeed strategic for the competitiveness of the Italian digital ecosystem,” Becker said. “Over the last few years, we have witnessed the opening of numerous new data centers in Italy, by Italian and international players, and the centrality of digital in national recovery plans.”

IDA’s mission, vision and goals

IDA was founded with the intention of uniting the industry’s leading companies and building a common platform for the region. IDA explains that much of its work will encourage the activation of processes to facilitate the construction of safe, energy-efficient data centers with full respect for environmental sustainability.

“Today, there is no business without digital,” Becker said. “We have an important mission in accelerating the digital development of the Italian territory through the increasing presence of data centers.”

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Becker continued by stressing the importance of sustainability.

“To do this, we intend to work intensively on the education aspect, generating new jobs and on environmental sustainability,” he said. “Our efforts will be aimed not only at training new talents ready to work in data centers but also at making environmental responsibility and sustainability a collective and virtuous effort involving the entire sector.

Becker explained that short-term actions for IDA include acting as a spokesperson at an institutional level for the needs of its member companies. Additionally, the association will contribute to the know-how in the sector and promote talent training.

In the long term, the association will develop research and evangelization projects, promoting collaboration with all players and organizations in the sector at the European level.

Data centers and the quest for sustainability

While data centers and cloud platforms can enable decarbonization and provide solutions to most contemporary challenges, from supply chain disruption to energy grid efficiency, the reality is the European data center boom has raised increasing environmental concerns. These are primarily associated with the significant effects data centers have on energy, water and land use.

Becker told TechRepublic that IDA will be working on data center environmental issues throughout 2023 and will present a full report on its findings and plans. Becker highlighted that under IDA´s short and long-term goals, the association partners are already working together to improve sustainability and efficiency.

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The association cited the Politecnico di Milano Observatory’s conference “Data Centers for the Development of the Italian Digital Ecosystem,” saying Italy has a total of 190 data centers, a number expected to rise to 204 by 2025, with a total installed power of 300 MW. Finding new energy efficiencies will be key to making this growth sustainable.

Building the future for Italian data centers

Throughout its report and our interview with Becker, IDA highlighted the foundational role data centers play in regional economies From retail to healthcare, first responders and essential services, the “invisible” infrastructure that data centers provide is critical to modern society. And for several years, Italy has been working to stay on the cutting edge.

In 2020, Microsoft — now an IDA partner — announced a $1.5 billion five-year investment plan to accelerate digital transformation in Italy, including its first cloud data center region for the country. The investment was framed under the plan “Ambizione Italia #DigitalRestart.”

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Other major tech companies have also planted their flag in Italy, committing to the growth of Italian data centers and other important tech infrastructure. IDA is the most recent show of this commitment, with eight founding members representing some of the industry’s most influential organizations.

With the support of these major players, the newly-formed IDA will work from all angles: Education and training, standardization and norms, and the environment and research.

“It is important to take care of Italy, supporting any leading digital company in their improvement project,” Becker said. “ESG is key, and IDA is willing to help and support both members and authorities. We will do our part, and we are committed to bringing very interesting innovative solutions”.

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