Data centers, like any other aspect of real estate, follow the age-old adage of “location, location, location”, and if you want to build one that is really efficient in terms of energy consumption as well as possessing all the basics of reliability, you have to be really picky about ambient temperatures, power availability and, if your business is hosting for others rather than just needing one for yourself, potential expansion. If you want to achieve a seeming impossibility – a zero carbon footprint to satisfy increasingly draconian regulatory pressures – you need to be even pickier. In the end, what you need is:
- Low ambient temperature to reduce your power requirements for cooling
- Someplace where you can get cheap “green” energy, and lots of it
- A location with adequate network connectivity, both in terms of latency as well as bandwidth, for global business
- A cooperative regulatory environment in a politically stable venue
So how about Iceland? A country with the population of a mid-sized city that has Gigawatts of geothermal and hydroelectric power, where the 100 year temperature range is well within the allowable inlet temperature of IT equipment, and a country with lots of space, an appetite for clean economic development and that is conveniently placed between Europe and N. America for easy physical and network access.
In partnership with Colt Industries, Verne Global has built a data center in Iceland that, in addition to having a very efficient guaranteed PUE of 1.2 or lower, has a zero carbon footprint due to its use of exclusively geothermal and hydroelectric power for its required energy. In addition to its use of Iceland’s plentiful and very green power, the physical design of the data center, a custom modular design built for Verne by Colt Industries, is unique in that it does not contain any cooling equipment other than fans. Since the 100 year temperature history of the SW corner of Iceland is at well below the maximum allowable inlet temperature of modern IT equipment, the entire data center is cooled with ambient air, so the major energy expenditure for cooling is the fans, with no overhead for chilled water or DX cooling, resulting in major energy savings. In the end, the cost advantages will have to prove themselves as well as the greenness of Verne’s hosting offering, but Verne management remains confident that the power costs in Iceland will allow them to be very competitive even before the carbon offset economics are factored in.
Initially this new hosting facility is a tiny drop in the bucket of global hosting, with a 100,000 Sq Ft shell of which 5,000 feet is currently built out for IT space. But the concept is powerful. Iceland is centrally located, has more than adequate connectivity with Europe and N. America, and now with Colt providing a POP for low latency bandwidth, Iceland is no more “distant” than any other high-performance low latency Tier 3+ hosting facility in Europe or N. America. Verne Global has big plans for this concept, with a total of 45 acres to build on and a 60 MW substation installed for their future growth. Since Iceland has, in the context of data center requirements, almost unlimited space and power, all of it essentially zero carbon, if Verne's initiative shows any signs of success, I would expect a mini-stampede of other operators to the far suburbs of Reykjavik in the not too distant future.
Power in Iceland is so cheap that it is economical to build aluminum smelters there, importing the bauxite and exporting both the finished aluminum and the waste products. In effect, Iceland is exporting its power in the form of refined metal. Data centers would be another way to export energy, this time as bits. Since aluminum smelters represent 7 x 24 point loads of up to 500 MW, the incremental loads for data centers, even a lot of very big ones, will barely move the meter in an infrastructure that currently supplies over 1 GW to a handful of plants in the same region of the country.