It’s estimated that the data centers that support the internet account for two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more CO2 than the entire aviation sector.
Karl Rabe, an MBA graduate from the UK’s Lancaster University Management School, has set out to fix this problem.
He’s founder and CEO of Windcloud, which runs data centers on locally-generated renewable energy. Since its launch in 2015, he’s pioneered the construction of one of the first data centers in the world to draw its electricity directly from a wind farm.
Located in Karl’s native Northern Friesland - a rural region of Germany close to the Danish border - the entire data center is powered by a single wind turbine. Now, Karl’s looking to sell Windcloud’s cloud and server products to socially-responsible startups and SMEs, and expand across Europe and the US.
Karl picked Lancaster over both Warwick and Mannheim Business School for his MBA. After graduation, he returned home, took the leap, and started his own business. His mission: to lead the internet into a sustainable future.
How did the idea to start Windcloud come about?
I started off with a software solution and, within the first week, I realized that the amount of energy that’s going into the internet, data centers, and computing in general, is insane.
The internet is literally killing the planet. Being born and raised in a region with a community-owned wind farm, I thought, why don’t we have data centers running off wind power?
What do you hope to achieve?
Our five-year plan is to have three data centers in Germany, another elsewhere in Europe, and one in the US. Last year was all about developing and building our infrastructure. This year is about selling.
There’s just no scenario I can see where this is going to get boring or where it makes sense to sell. There will be a renewable energy future. There are other industries besides computing who need renewable energy. I see Windcloud becoming a leading decentralized utility for renewable energy.
What challenges do you face?
We’re operating in a hugely complex environment. We’re not only running our own data center, but also our own cloud and electric power supply. There are still some legal restrictions that we have to overcome. But we don’t face any problems in selling the product. There’s huge demand.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Lancaster?
I was getting frustrated in my role. I had business experience under my belt, but I was going into more specialist positions. I’ve always seen myself as more of a generalist. I was interested in management, and decided to give myself a new direction.
Lancaster was a great fit. It was more affordable than other top-ranked schools. And Lancaster attracts a mix of truly global classes. I loved the class size, the group dynamic, and the teaching environment.
What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?
Business schools are all comparable by ranking, but the decision to do an MBA is hugely individual. You don’t do an MBA twice. Give yourself enough time for the MBA application process. Speak to students and go and visit the schools.
Would you be where you are now without the Lancaster MBA?
Most certainly not! The year at Lancaster gave me the time to reflect on what I wanted to do. It helped me realize that I wanted to try the next biggest possible challenge and start my own venture.
Plus, everything that I learnt, I could immediately put into action. Lancaster is first class for strategy. So many of the new tools and new ideas you’re exposed to – in developing a business model, in finance, and marketing – were hugely beneficial in setting up my own business.
I’ve been back to Lancaster to talk about my experience. I’ve made some great contacts, and I’m in ongoing discussions with Lancaster alumni and people trying to do similar things in the UK.