Cloud enablement

In Iceland, Making Lemonade Out of Ash

Iceland's reputation in the business community has taken its lumps in recent years, from the collapse of the country's economy in 2008 and nationalization of its three main banks to the recent massive global travel disruption caused by the ash cloud released by its Eyjafjallajallajökulashaker volcano.

One US firm with major operations in Iceland is using the latest incident to bring new visibility to the country's unique capability for hosting remote data center operations that capitalize on Iceland's geo-thermal activity to provide a constant, renewable, and low-cost source of power.

Verne Global is a wholesale data center company that initially established its footprint in Iceland in Keflavik, a site the government of Iceland is actively redeveloping. The availability of renewable hydro-electric power and easy cooling were the immediate benefits to locating in Iceland; and the presence of three major transoceanic cables, providing links to the US and Europe, made communications attractive as well. A lot of those advantages were highlighted in Internet Evolution's documentary on Iceland:

While Iceland's volcanic disruption had a devastating impact on travel in Europe, as the ash cloud floated east, it had virtually no impact on operations in the southwestern portion of Iceland, where Keflavik hosts Verne Global's data center.

"This has allowed us to show how we were prepared, and that the volcano did not affect our operation," says Tate Cantrell, CTO of Verne Global. "Our facilities are built on an old NATO airbase in the southwest corner of the country, well away from any impact by the volcano."

The Verne Global hosting facility is built on 1.5 million year-old bedrock, Cantrell says. In a comparative study using US Geological Survey results, Keflavik's "horizontal ground acceleration" factor proved similar to that of US cities such as Columbia, S.C., or Little Rock, Ark. -- places not known for their volatility.

"We are committed to showing the risk threshold is low, while the opportunity is great," Cantrell says.

That opportunity is based on the much lower cost of electricity in Iceland, where the same geothermal activity that fuels volcanos also produces a renewable energy source that saves more than $1 million a year for every megawatt of server load, based on a five-year contract rate, Cantrell says.

"In terms of [total cost of ownership], even if you factor in the additional costs of transport to Iceland, it's still a win."

This unusual natural disaster also highlighted the need for service providers who are looking to provide cloud computing [ed. note: no pun intended] to diversify their hosting sites, to be prepared for the unexpected, Cantrell contends.

"We have seen the impact in terms of renewed interest in what we are doing. This is an opportunity to promote risk mitigation, by pointing out that no location eliminates all the risk."

As more service providers look to offer cloud-based services, they also are looking for places to host applications that can provide high availability and security, but also low latency, Cantrell says. Verne Global believes the recent addition of transoceanic cables connecting Iceland to both the US and Europe helps meet bandwidth and latency goals.

Verne Global also has worked with the government of Iceland to help develop incentives to bring business to the island, according to Cantrell, and he expects news on that front soon.

To date, European carriers have been the first attracted to hosting their services in Verne Global's data center facilities in Iceland, Cantrell says, in part because Iceland is considered part of Europe, and therefore it's not as big a stretch.

"One of the things we can say is that we have good relationships with carriers' carriers, who are putting their [optical] gear at our site, to provide direct access, with a short hop from the data center onto a wavelength service," Cantrell says. "We do that now for direct connections to London or Copenhagen, but it can work as well to connect to Halifax and from there to Montreal, Boston, or the 60 Hudson St. facility [in New York City]."

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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