Gallery: Icelandic Data Centre Shows Off Its Security

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Even in the remoteness of Iceland, data centres still have to keep physical security in mind.

Iceland may be a remote place, but sites there still have to pay attention to physical security.  When risk management firm RMS took us to Verne Global’s data centre near Reykjavik, the security features were prominent,

Our trip took us through multiple layers of security, and photography was limited, but Verne Global provided images to supplement them. The firm clearly has a message it wants to get across. While we might get excited about the renewable energy it uses, this data centre  basically runs the same kinds of security that any self-respecting data centre should have, and Verne would like to be considered alongside other sites in less exotic locations. The other not-so-subliminal message in these pictures is one all data centres want to display: reliability.

Verne Iceland data centre gantryway 12Traps and snares

Entry to the site starts with a vehicle trap outside the building (two fences to get through). There’s a reception desk where security badges are provided, and then a “man trap” (two airlock-style doors with secure entry) before you are properly in the building.

When you are through an access corridor, you can see the outside of the data halls, which are built using Colt’s modular system within the large warehouse which Verne Global inherited from the Keflavik sites days as a NATO air base.

Out here, you can see the fire-suppression cylinders, which can flood the data hall with flame-retardant gas (which, if you’re wondering won’t also suffocate any people inside the hall) . You can also see the dual electric power infrastructure, connected twice to Iceland’s electric grid.

There are backup generators outside the building, but Verne’s CTO Tate Cantrell told TechWeekEurope  says they aren’t really necessary.

Reliable electricity

Iceland has a lot of surplus electricity and has lured energy-hungry businesses to the country, including aluminium smelters. One aluminium smelting plant uses about 3o0MW to 400MW of electricity, and Iceland’s three smelters (run by Rio Tinto, Century and Alco) use about three-quarters of the whole country’s current electricity supply.

As an aside, with this ready market for its electricity, you might wonder why Iceland’s government is keen to back data centres. The country plans to have a data centre industry consuming maybe 200MW of power, which is modest (about one percent of Europe’s data centres) and well within the country’s capability. There is plenty more untapped renewable energy in Iceland. Why data centres?

The answer is that they are cleaner than aluminium – although the major separation processes take place where the ore  is mined, aluminium smelting does produce fluoride. Data centres also have the potential to foster other high-tech employment prospects in Iceland. Iceland’s minister for industry, Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, attended the event, promising continued support (and reassuring journalists that Iceland’s privacy rules are at least as good as the European Union’s).

The smelting industry has fostered highly reliable electricity production, as the consequences of a power outage would  be catastrophic for the smelting firm. Molten aluminium is produced by electrolysis in large crucibles – which would solidify and become unusable, costing millions of dollars to replace, if the power were interrupted.

Iceland’s state power company, Landsvirkjun, has convinced the smelters to trust its power grid. Data centres are actually less critically dependent on continuous power, but Verne has backup generators. One assumes they are largely to reassure potential customers.

One wall of the warehouse consists of air filters. These bring in Iceland’s low-temperature air, which precludes any need for electrical cooling in the centre. If there are high quantities of particles in the air (from a volcanic eruption, say), these filters can be closed, and the site will run on recycled air for a long time, with only a small rise in temperature, Cantrell said,.

Another “airlock” gets you inside the data hall which is – of course – no different from any other.

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Verne Global Iceland Data Centre 2013

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Verne Global - Vehicle Trap
Vehicles have to pass through two fences before they reach the Verne warehouses. Image by Verne Global