What’s behind Iceland’s first major data center?

Hear from Verne Global and Datapipe about their data center services being offered from way up north.

A few weeks ago, I saw this article on The Swedish Wire about how several Swedish northern towns were promoting themselves as ideal locales for data centers. The article pointed out that an undisclosed "major U.S. Internet company, widely believed to be Facebook, is planning to build a giant data center outside the town center of Luleå," in Sweden. It was around this time, too, that Google announced the opening of its data center in Hamina, Finland. And it was around this time, too, that I got a call from representatives for Verne Global, which was getting ready to open the doors to its new data center in Iceland. There's something about those chilly northern locales that are becoming the hot spots for data centers.

Verne Global’s 18-hectacre (about 44.5 acres) campus in Keflavik, Iceland, is 100% carbon neutral and draws its commercial power from Iceland’s dual-sourced renewable energy grid of geothermal and hydroelectric power. The campus also utlilizes Iceland’s ambient temperatures to provide free cooling. The center is the site for Verne Global’s new colocation service, which it announced last week. Also as part of the announcement was the news that Datapipe, a provider of managed services and infrastructure for mission critical IT and cloud computing, plans to deliver carbon neutral managed IT solutions, including a green cloud and disaster recovery, via Verne Global’s Icelandic data center facility.

I had the chance to interview executives – Lisa Rhodes, VP of marketing and sales for Verne Global, and Sean McAvan, Datapipe’s VP of Sales for Europe and the Middle East – and thought I’d share some excerpts of those interviews with you.

Is it true that the Iceland data center Verne Global just opened the first major data center in that country?

Lisa: Yes, the Verne Global data center campus is not only Iceland’s first major data center campus, but in fact, is the first data center campus of its kind within the industry as a whole. Verne Global has a unique ability to tap into the modern power grid of Iceland to offer its customers dual-sourced (geothermal and hydroelectric) renewable and affordable energy for their data center needs. We can offer our customers well over 50% cost savings over traditional data centers in Europe and New York, for example.

How critical are renewable energy sources for data centers, and how will this shape the future of the data center market?

Lisa: Right now there are several trends converging in the data center industry making affordable and renewable energy a critical element to any data center operation. The demand for high capacity, flexible and scalable data center campuses has increased in parallel with the growing concern of rising cost and environmental impact of traditional data centers. The data center industry has been and will continue to be highly dependent on power, both to power the servers and cool the environment. In addition, many data centers are facing regulatory changes that are prompting companies to actively investigate renewable energy sources for their computing needs. All of these factors combined will keep the need for renewable energy at the forefront of data center planning.

How do you monitor energy usage and carbon footprints at the facility?

Lisa: This is a really interesting question as we have a different way of thinking about monitoring efficiency on the site. At our Iceland campus, all of our power comes from 100% renewable energy resources – geothermal and hydroelectric – which mean they are carbon neutral and the energy production itself is not producing any emissions. Add to that the fact that we are able to offer "free cooling" due to Iceland’s natural ambient weather patterns and affordable energy pricing for our customers anyways, the traditional metrics of energy usage and efficiency don’t necessarily apply in the same way. That said, it is ultimately up to each client to determine how they want to more traditionally monitor usage within their individual data center space.

Do you share any of the data re: energy usage with clients?

Lisa: Yes, it varies with each client based on their usage, but it is monitored at the rack level.

How is the facility hardened and protected against earthquakes and other disasters?

Lisa: Given the fact that Iceland has an abundance of affordable, renewable energy resources through its natural hydro-electric and geo-thermal power sources and that geothermal power is, by nature, a by-product of seismic and volcanic activity, this is something we took into consideration when building the site from the get-go. The facilities were built with these concerns in mind and part of the data center design and operations include mitigating any environmental impacts to protect the data center campus.

What other features besides the renewable energy sources would you like to highlight?

Lisa: We are very excited about our new colocation service offering and having Datapipe as the first customer with that service. With this new offering we are able to support almost any data center power requirement, from racks to megawatts. This approach allows us to enable our customers to quickly meet the changing needs of their business – a high value benefit when compared to more traditional, static data center approaches.

Sean, from Datapipe’s perspective, what was appealing about partnering with Verne Global and using its data center facility to deliver your cloud and disaster recovery services?

Sean: It was a very considered decision and we spent a lot of time assessing the viability of the site for our customers. As part of Datapipe’s commitment to a long-term sustainability strategy, we are looking forward to utilizing the site’s carbon neutral power and cooling efficiencies. As well as meeting increasing industry demand for sustainable solutions, this will benefit our customers by offering predictable power costs for the long term - which we increasingly find is a big part of delivering IT services in any kind of utility model. In terms of geography, Datapipe currently services some of the world’s most important financial and technology markets. Iceland sits between London and New York – two very important and rapidly growing Datapipe business units. The facility’s low-latency, subsea connectivity will provide optimal disaster recovery, business continuity, and cloud computing solutions. Finally, the site’s modular design also allows gives us the flexibility to rapidly expand our facilities there as and when business demand increases.

Were there any concerns before finalizing the deal, and if yes, how were they resolved? I’m thinking of, for example, the fact that Iceland is prone to earthquakes. What assurances did you get from Verne Global about the physical security of the facility and the disaster recovery preparedness of it?

Sean: Obviously safety and business continuity are always a priority for us when we consider a site. We assessed the site carefully as we would any other data center in an area with known risks – for example, Silicon Valley. The site is a former NATO HQ and NATO chose the location very carefully, it is outside the tectonic fracture zones and is distant from any volcanoes. The site is actually built on bedrock granite and Verne had to blast into this in order to raise the foundation. Finally, Verne has built an awful lot of data centers (including our site in San Jose) and we were very comfortable that they had performed proper diligence.

How important do you think green is/will be for cloud services, to data center customers?

Sean: Gartner estimates that data centers account for around 0.5% of all global carbon emissions. As demand for cloud solutions continues to grow, so will the amount of energy required to power data centers. Organizations like Greenpeace (see their "Dirty Data Campaign") have already been active in trying to mobilize consumer and investor opinion around the sources of energy that power the world’s largest Internet brands. In the United Kingdom, we are also seeing legislation target large users of power, including the data center industry. We have already ensured that our U.S. facilities are 100% powered by renewables and our cloud solutions are designed to leverage computer resource as effectively possible. In Iceland, we see a way to help organizations both reduce their carbon footprint and reduce their costs. The country’s renewable utilities offer the ability to fix power costs for up to 20 years. In turn, the ability to leverage free-air cooling drastically reduces the total power draw and utility spend for the site. When you combine those factors with the efficient resource utilization designed into the DNA of our own solutions, we feel it’s a very compelling proposition.

What kinds of information/data will you get from monitoring tools that you can then share with your customers to showcase that the services are really "green"? And at what level will you share that data?

Sean: Broadly, there are two types of data that we can make available to our customers – the first is about the power drawn by their equipment if we are housing dedicated or co-located infrastructure for them, and we offer real-time and historical data. The second is much more granular data on infrastructure performance, right down to component level – so the utilization of a single processor or component of RAM. We make all of this data available to our clients via a secure portal, but we also spend a great deal of effort organizing that data into information that’s meaningful to our client’s business. We build automated reports to measure application performance and the impact on infrastructure. Our experience is that when clients outsource infrastructure or applications, their concerns are often around security and loss of control. Transparency of granular detail, combined with the definition and ongoing measurement of service metrics are a key way to engender trust and let clients see the value in their solutions.

What is the most significant aspect of your service that you’d like to highlight to potential customers?

Sean: Really that we design customized solutions to fit our clients business needs. We don’t see a single technology or data center location as a panacea or solution in itself. But we’ve built a strong service portfolio of carefully selected vendors, locations and technology – and we combine these into powerful hybrid solutions that we feel can support almost any application or address almost any business case.

ISAAC KATO IS INSPIRED BY ICELAND from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

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