Iceland’s Data Centre Saga: Ready For Live Customer Data?

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

Iceland’s green data centre pioneers can now boast of some big customers, says Peter Judge

We’ve heard before about efforts to make Iceland a hub for data centre activity, driven by cheap renewable energy and good connections in both directions across the Atlantic. Now it looks like there are actual customers showing up there, including an interesting risk management application run by RMS.

Early in 2012, I visited Verne Global’s data centre on the old Keflavik NATO base. Back then it was ready to go, but empty, This time, it was so full of servers, we weren’t allowed to take photos right inside the data hall. Data center users like to keep their gear private.

But we still got a bunch of photos, and you can compare today’s gallery (below) with  gallery from last year. Basically, the first hall is filling up, and a second one is on the way.  Security, as we said, is tighter – and was in fact the major thing the trip was designed to show us.

RMS iceloand viking museumWhat about customer-facing data?

The headline customer of the day, RMS, had no problems talking about what it is doing in Verne’s data center. It’s running systems that model weather catastrophes and other disasters, to calculate insurance risk. And it made sense to Paris Georgallis, vice president of platform operations at RMS, to do this somewhere that wouldn’t add to the pressure on the climate.

This led to the enjoyable spectacle of a man discussing looming catastrophes in the shadow of a giant Viking longship (I am in the front row at the right, if you are interested).

Of course, it is not actually as simple as that. Iceland has very good network links to the world, but in day-to-day use, RMS needs to do its processing close to the customers.

This isn’t just because of latency, Paris Georgallis, vice president of platform operations at RMS told us. Round trip times to Iceland are pretty low, and RMS found it quite possible to test its software remotely from its headquarters in California. and the beta tests on the cloud were  done with live customer data.

The reason is more to do with the RMS’ business model and the way it has moved to the cloud.

Risk management modelling in the cloud is a comparatively new thing, and RMS is opening up its data  to partners. Some of those partners want to use their own servers to build on RMS’ model. Now, RMS is a happy cloud user, and its servers are all virtual, so there’s no particular reason why its partners shouldn’t do likewise. But some of them prefer to have physical servers, and these need to be installed close to the servers in RMS’ cloud.

So RMS needs to offer physical access, even though this is a cloud service, and that’s why when the live service arrives next year, it will be on servers running in London and on the East Coast of America.

Iceland is close enough

Does this mean that Iceland is still too far away from the rest of the world for practical purposes then? Not at all, says Georgallis. The service provider partner, Datapipe has been on the Verne project since 2011, and now offers Apache Cloudstack services from Iceland along with its other locations.

This means loads can be shifted across between those sites, so even if clients hesitate to serve customers from Iceland, the data center there is available for development – and also for disaster recovery.

RMS is taking up the disaster recovery option, and will continue to test software in Iceland, so the Keflavik cloud will continue. In fact, as the disaster recovery cloud there is a full duplicate of the customer-facing sites, it will be as big as the US and European sites combined, Georgallis told us.

Also, resources there will also be available for bursting if more capacity is needed. That will mean actual European and US customers served from Iceland, and not as part of a test.

A version of this article appeared on Green Data Center News. 

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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