Google is busy turning the old Summa paper mill into a data centre
In 2008 the Finnish forest industry giant Stora Enso closed down its Summa paper mill, which had formerly employed 400 people.
The Summa mill site close to the city of Hamina in Southeastern Finland was given a new lease of life in February 2009, when it was announced that the buildings and most of the former mill site had been sold to the Internet search engine company Google for approximately EUR 40 million.
Google is now in the process of turning the mill into a data centre.
The launch of the centre is scheduled for the coming spring and the facility is expected to give work to 50 to 60 people. The Internet giant’s presence in Hamina is hoped to bring more investments with it into the city. So far things have still been quiet, however.
By Elina Kervinen
On the wall inside the main staircase leading into the former Stora Enso paper mill hangs a lonely, slightly skewed sheet of white paper. On the sheet, familiar colourful letters spell out the word "Google".
The American search engine giant’s logo on a modest A4 background is so far the only clear indication of the new lease of life given to forestry company Stora Enso’s former paper mill site in the southeastern city of Hamina.
All the same, the construction work of the Google data centre is progressing at a decent clip in the 8,000-square-metre premises, says Joseph Kava, director of Google’s global data centre operations.
“Look how tidy it is in here!” Kava says when showing the newly-cleaned factory hall to the visitors.
“We are almost on schedule. Naturally some unexpected minor issues have come up, as is often the case with large undertakings such as this one.”
The data centre's equipment will be tested during the winter and the actual operations should commence in the spring as planned.
The closing down of the Stora Enso paper mill robbed Hamina of hundreds of jobs in 2008.
Then came the recession. In the space of two years the port city’s unemployment rate shot up from just over 9 per cent to the present level of around 13%. This is clearly above the current national average.
Once completed, the Google data centre will employ 50-60 individuals. So far the company has hired four people. According to Kava, job applications are currently being reviewed feverishly.
“As yet I cannot say for sure, but I would imagine that most of the workers will be Finnish. And also from the nearby region”, Kava continues.
Hamina City Manager Hannu Muhonen has adopted a level-headed attitude when it comes to the economic impact of the EUR 200 million data centre: even if the entire permanent staff of the data centre were to be hired from Hamina, the city’s unemployment rate would come down only by half a percentage point, he calculates.
Still, during the renovation phase Google will create jobs worth around 200 man-years in Hamina.
At the moment there are about 180 people working on the site. Once the most hectic construction phase commences in a couple of months’ time, the number of employees will reach 300.
According to Kava, at least half of the renovation work will be given to local contractors to complete.
“We plan to stay in Hamina for quite some time, so we feel it is important to create tight connections with the locals. It is valuable for example should we decide to expand later on.”
According to Muhonen, the ongoing building work already shows as a tiny little dent in the unemployment charts. In addition, local hotels and restaurants have also benefited from the increased bustle.
The presence of Google may also have a positive effect on the city’s image and this may result in increased investments in the area.
“Having said that, at least I have not yet heard of anything concrete.”
The visitors to the mill are still interested in the logo printed on the A4. When will Summa turn into a proper Google facility?
“Once we have hired the entire staff, they will be given free hands to decorate the interior of the place to their liking and make it look like a proper Google site”, Kava concludes.
When the machines start to hum and Google Summa goes online, it will become one of several Google data centres around the world.
From then on, journalists will not be quite as welcome to stroll around the site, access to which - by land or sea - will be monitored by countless motion detectors and cameras. Even the staff will only have access to the servers in the nerve-centre in the former mill hall through biometric authentication, based on iris recognition scanners.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 10.9.2010
Previously in HS International Edition:
Google buys Stora Enso paper mill building in Hamina for use as data centre (13.2.2009)
Google gives journalists tour of former paper factory, future data centre (15.1.2010)
State subsidy for wind generators near Google plant (19.2.2009)
Stora Enso closing Summa and Kemijärvi mills at brisk pace (18.1.2008)
Google: Hamina Data Center
ELINA KERVINEN / Helsingin Sanomat