Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Saturday, November 1, 2014
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Cantrell Speaks on Success and Future of Icelandic Datacenters 

Verne Global’s datacenter in Iceland has attracted a lot of attention in green IT circles of late. Green Computing Report has gone in-depth in covering how the Icelandic datacenter uses groundwater cooling as part of their 100 percent renewable energy powered facility. Now, AFCOM is recognizing the company in nominating Tate Cantrell, CTO of Verne Global, for Datacenter Manager of the Year.

Last week, GCR caught up with Cantrell to discuss the recent AFCOM award nomination, how the Icelandic datacenter came to be, and how it has attracted as much attention as it has received.

“When you get recognized by the AFCOM group, certainly that’s a point of recommendation, but it also gives us visibility into enterprise tech companies that we really think can benefit from within Iceland,” Cantrell said on what the nomination means for Verne Global’s Icelandic datacenter.

Before working for Verne Global, Cantrell worked for a group based in Northern Virginia that spread datacenters across the country. That experience in evaluating sites and planning facilities carried over to managing the effort in Iceland, especially since Cantrell faced similar engineering challenges in Alaska. “Verne Global for me personally has been an opportunity to take all aspects from my background, including even some of the northern engineering challenges that I had up in Alaska and boil those into a project that provides low-cost business solutions,” Cantrell said.

Green computing in general has become more apparent in driving business decisions for various reasons. The most common reason is, of course, cost. Applications and algorithms that run more efficiently and consume less energy simply cost less. “There is a trend,” Cantrell said, “towards people starting to become aware of how their applications run. It’s no longer just giving the application developer the biggest, fattest PC with the most processing and the most RAM, they have to start thinking about these applications in terms of how much impact they’re going to make on the bottom line of the company. People are actually starting to look at what is the optimized place to run their algorithms and applications.”

As such, Iceland has the potential to become a popular datacenter landing spot.

Picking Iceland to host an extensive datacenter is not necessarily an intuitive choice. After all, many facilities eschew places like California since a single earthquake can wreck a multi-million dollar investment. Iceland is not exactly devoid of seismic activity, as many still remember the Eyjafjallajökull eruptions that shut down portions of European air travel in 2010.

Cantrell assuaged any fears of calamity on the island nation that would shut down the data center by noting that volcanic eruptions on Iceland are largely isolated, from a damage perspective, to their little areas. Meanwhile, the Verne Global datacenter is situated in the southwest corner of the country, away from most of the danger on the site of what used to be a NATO airbase.

According to Cantrell, the major issue one has to consider specific to building IT facilities is the amount the ground accelerates in an event. “When you’re doing a site analysis, you should be focused on the ground acceleration that you might see with a 50- or 100-year quake within our facilities. The comps that we see in the US in terms of ground acceleration are places like New Jersey, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, places you don’t really associate with seismic activity.”

Of course, beyond the potential disasters, one now also has to focus on the potential green opportunities in a location. Of all places, Iceland may be best suited to provide that with 100 percent of their energy coming from wither hydroelectricity or geothermal power.

“The first [reason we chose Iceland], which is probably the primary one, is because it is anchored by 100 percent green power. That’s both hydro and geothermal, which is an interesting combination that really helps in terms of making it a viable resource.”

According to Cantrell, people like saying they are using green technologies to run their computing applications, but they do not necessarily like to pay more for it. Iceland’s energy setup means that the company can estimate with great accuracy what energy costs will look like for them both 20 months from now and even 20 years from now.

“Verne Global and the datacenter industry in Iceland has said, ‘we like this concept of low power, we like this long term predictability of cost, we want a 20-year power agreement where we can go out to the market and say that we’re 100 percent green and we know what the price is going to be in the year 2030.’”

Further, Iceland’s location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean allows Verne to remote host IT applications and data from institutions in both North America and Europe.

Finally, Iceland sits in a very cool location on the globe, meaning that outside air cooling techniques and groundwater come into play as cheap, energy-efficient methods to lower the temperature of IT machines.

As a result, companies like BMW are able to run their computing at much more efficient levels. As Cantrell explained, “BMW, one of our major customers that does a lot of high performance computing, in their press release when they work with us, they say they save 82 percent on the power costs that they were seeing within the typical areas that they were doing their high performance computing.”

Verne Global had been working on their datacenter for four years before finishing it and letting the market grow for it, having recently expanded their efforts into Germany. Building the optimal facility that accomplishes green and efficiency goals is a long process. “When you get your big idea moving and you’ve got a team of experts that have done it before and you’ve got a community that’s really supporting you on it, it’s not that hard. It just takes time to do it correctly and that’s why we didn’t pop out three years ago with a half-baked product on the market.”

Verne Global and Tate Cantrell have to a certain extent started the engines on the Icelandic datacenter train. If their recognition continues, expect to see more datacenters to pop up in Iceland from here on out.

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