Icelandic Data Centre Uses Modules, Not Containers

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Container-based data centres are popular, but Verne Global went with bigger modules in Iceland

Data centre company Verne Global is using modular components to build a data centre in Iceland for customers in the US and Europe, which will be powered entirely by renewable energy.

Verne is shipping pre-fabricated data centre modules made by Colt to Iceland, where they will be put together to form a 500 square metre data centre before the end of this year, which Verne says will be more effective than rival data centres built from racks inside shipping containers.

All the power you could need

Keflavik in 1982

Verne has been building a data centre for some time in the former NATO Naval Air Station Keflavik (pictured in 1982) in Iceland, which has a dual source of renewable energy, both hydro-electric and geothermal, as well as good links to telecoms lines.

It has decided to start the actual service from the site with a pre-fabricated system that should suit customers who need rack space and use power at the kW level, while leaving the rest of the site for bespoke data centre space, for customers who buy power by the megaWatt, Verne Global’s CEO Jeff Monroe told eWEEK Europe.

“We are in the process of building our business,” said Monroe. “Demand is growing at the kW level, and we are working on deals at the MW level.” Opting for a modular approach allowed Verne to serve both markets, he explained, as the market goes into a “hybrid state” where customers want both bespoke and off-the-peg space.

“We have fully developed the underlying infrastructure,” said Monroe.”We’ve prepareed the shell of the building, and have power and  fibre optics. We are now in a positiion to accept the fit-out.”

Elsewhere in Iceland, the Thor data centreopted for a containerised approach, with servers shipped inside standard shipping containers, but Verne wanted something closer to a normal data centre, said Monroe: “It’s a plug and play modularised building block, but it is a proper data centre in every sense of the word.”

While containers are small spaces, the Colt modular system bolts together into a large continuous data centre space, and Colt has shipped several since launching the concept last year. Verne’s version will be customised for the Icelandic environment, however, said Akber Jaffer, vice president of strategy at Colt Data Centre Services.

“It is the first modular data centre of this type to be shipped by sea,” said Jaffer. Verne’s version will use 100 percent free-air cooling, and have no mechanical chillers, because these are unecessary in Iceland’s climate, he added. “The benefits from this trickle down through the entire structure,” he said, since the compressors do not need dual power supplies, and a lot of other infrastructure can be left out.

This will make the data centre very efficient, beating the modular system’s target Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.2, but Jaffer and Monroe emphasised that the environment in Iceland is so favourable to data centre building, that PUE may not be the best measure of their efficiency.

“The PUE will be pretty impressive, but we prefer to talk about TCO (total cost of ownership),” said Monroe. “When you are in a location with a dual source of 100 percent renewable energy, which is afforable,  it is amazing how PUE can be affected.”

With lower power costs, PUE is not such a crucial money saver, and with renewable energy PUE does not indicate the data centre’s environmental impact – so Verne is majoring on the actual cost, where the low price of Icelandic power is a big benefit. Wherever they are sited, a large part of data centres’ costs are the power they use.

The racks are installed at Colt’s factory, and other equipment and servers are shipped to be placed in those racks on site.

Transporting the data centre is only a little more onerous than using shipping containers, said Jaffer. The building blocks can be transported to the port on low-riser trucks – the biggest that can drive on European roads without an escort – and do not require modifications to the ship which carries them. Plugging it into utilities at the eventual site is no hardeer than with a container, said Jaffer.

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