With Plenty of Cheap Electricity to Spare, Iceland Courts Server Farms

By Veronique Greenwood | April 11, 2012 12:29 pm

A geothermal plant in Iceland

Iceland’s gigantic energy reserves, generated from renewable sources like geothermal vents, are all dressed up with nowhere to go—it’s too expensive to get power from the chilly island to anywhere else. But transporting data to and from the island is a different story. Iceland is starting to attract companies that build giant server farms, lured by the cheap electricity and the possibility of being able to market “green” power.

As we’ve noted before, data centers, which store information people put in the cloud and handle processing tasks that keep the Internet chugging along, are huge energy users. Their demand for electricity is growing by leaps and bounds, with some estimates holding that by 2020, they will use quadruple the energy they did in 2007.

Proposals that data centers move to places where renewable energy is cheap are not new. But a short article over at Technology Review notes some signs that this proposed shift is actually happening. Iceland, seeking to turn its electricity surplus to a profitable use that’s more environmentally friendly than aluminum smelting, which is the current major user of electricity on the island, is courting data centers, and a company called Verne Global set up shop there in February, Tech Review reports. Sporting access to 50 megawatts of power, it’s one of three data centers now in Iceland.

Will all your bits soon be racing to and from Iceland? Probably not the ones involved in processing tasks that require a quick turnaround; it still takes a bit of time (36 milliseconds) to get data from the northern Atlantic to the US. But there are plenty of less-than-urgent tasks that could be handled there, on the cheap, with power than doesn’t come from fossil fuels.

[via Technology Review]

Image courtesy of ThinkGeoEnergy / flickr

  • Talisker

    Another interesting feature of Iceland is that its government has broken away from the international banking/austerity consensus, and generally shows an admirable commitment to democracy and free speech. It could become a safe haven for data which more powerful governments might wish suppressed — the Switzerland of data centres, if you will.

    Unlike Switzerland (which is armed to the teeth) Iceland has no armed forces other than a small coast guard. If the Icelanders go down the data haven route, they might want to consider the possibility of someone trying to shut them down by force majeure.

  • dskirnir

    I might imagine Server Farm security will be privaftized to some degree by the very corporate customers of the island. Something far larger in scale than the security guard at the front desk, but less than island wide to begin with.

    However given a large enough data industry might allow for a Navy and Airforce. With a corporate logo. Privatized or not I do agree with the island having de facto haven status.

    There could be ancillary industry growth in conjunction with data related ventures.

    Perhaps the Swiss would be willing to subcontract security like they do for the Vatican?


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