Data centers Still Steaming in Iceland

By TMCnet Special Guest
Lisa Rhodes, VP of Marketing and Sales at Verne Global
  |  September 01, 2010

As ash from last spring’s volcanic eruption in Iceland was starting to disrupt seriously European travel plans, the data center industry began seeing increased media focus surrounding the event’s impact on development in the area. Green data center projects, like our Verne Global campus, certainly have received a fair share of attention as carbon emission concerns intensify and Iceland continues to establish the industry’s most optimized alternative.

The eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull actually have provided a unique opportunity to illustrate why Iceland remains such an ideal spot for data centers and what careful planning must be done to secure sensitive IT infrastructure in such a distinctive landscape. Indeed, preparation is key, and a smart strategy can keep a facility out of harm’s way when unexpected situations like this occur.

It’s impossible to ignore the volcanic activity that has instigated world-wide interest in Iceland. The most recent eruptions certainly won’t be the last in the land of ice and fire, but that is precisely what makes the area so uniquely energy efficient. Geothermal energy, along with available hydroelectric resources, put Iceland in a “green” world of its own, running on 100 percent renewable energy as other regions struggle to adapt to fluctuating energy prices and stricter carbon legislation taking form. This, combined with the ability to offer year-round free cooling in Iceland, enables a one-of-a-kind data center package that can’t be found anywhere else. The solution is 100 percent renewable, which is no small task and certainly has its own unique position inside an industry with a notorious history as a carbon emissions producer.

The recent events pose as a perfect reminder that the unexpected is a possibility; however, the story for Iceland data center development is that there was no story.

With volcanoes acting as a major catalyst in the Icelandic green data center vision, the question has never been how to avoid them, but how to utilize their energy without causing any dangers or major disruptions to the data center facility and procedures. Finding a location isn’t as complicated as one might think, as Iceland’s predictable landscape clearly points to the most stable area in the region. Most of Iceland’s volcanic activity happens on the eastern side, so naturally development is best in the west. The chances of volcanic activity on the western side actually would be comparable to any uneventful city in the U.S. Iceland’s predominant wind and weather pattern flows from west to east as well, so ash plumes are blown far away from the area toward Europe.

The recent eruptions acted as a live test of sorts to demonstrate this process and everything went exactly according to design while Europe, unfortunately, experienced most of the consequences. It really has been business as usual for cities like Keflavik in southwest Iceland. As European air travel stalled, flights out of Keflavik never stopped taking off with media and tourism providing more of a disruption than the volcano itself. Further alleviating concerns with volcanoes and ash dust is a lesser-known fact that Iceland possesses some very stable ground, which has remained secure for millions of years. The Verne Global data center campus is being developed on the former Naval Air Station Keflavik, surrounded by a 1.5 million-year-old bedrock base, which served as a major attraction for the original NATO facility. The military can no more afford the consequences of being unprepared than a data center can, and the stable bedrock goes deep to provide extra protection in case of earthquakes and other types of natural disasters. It’s safe to say that the area is spot on for risk management, but Iceland actually is quite a bit more resistant to natural disaster than other data center hot spots like the U.S and U.K.

Volcanoes surely aren’t the only danger Mother Nature has in her repertoire, and a detailed contingency plan is a must for any company looking to protect its investment, not to mention that of its customers. The recent events pose as a perfect reminder that the unexpected is a possibility; however, the story for Iceland data center development is that there was no story. The region’s predictable, but unique landscape ensured that projects like ours could advance clear from volcanic consequences, with no disruption to power or communications. In the end, smart planning and making the appropriate safety precautions allow for easy rest knowing facilities remain secure while others gamble with the headache of uncertainty. NGN

Lisa Rhodes is vice president of marketing and sales at Verne Global (