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How Verne Global tackled the Icelandic datacentre connectivity gap

The wide availability of renewable energy has made Iceland an attractive location for datacentre operators, increasing demand for global network connections to the country

The abundance of cheap, environmentally friendly power in Iceland has not gone unnoticed by the datacentre community, but neither has the shortage of high-quality network connections in the country.

UK-based datacentre development company Verne Global has worked hard to improve the network connections to its datacentre campus just west of Reykjavik in Iceland, and the latest step has seen it collaborate with global communications provider Level 3 Communications.

“We built our datacentre campus in Iceland because we saw a problem in the industry,” says Tate Cantrell, CTO of Verne Global. “Companies pay more than ever for power-hungry datacentres, and the power prices in some parts of Europe continue to increase. “If companies choose Iceland, they can reduce their datacentre costs.”

Verne Global uses a mix of hydroelectric and geothermal electricity sources to power its facilities, which are low-cost and 100% carbon neutral, says Cantrell. “To build datacentres close to city centres with good connectivity, but far from cheap power, is not sustainable.”

Iceland’s cooler climate helps Verne Global make more efficient use of its datacentre equipment, because it does not need to resort to mechanical cooling methods to operate it at a comfortable temperature.

“The equipment works better when it is not that warm, and in Iceland it is unusual to have temperatures over 20°C in the summer time,” says Cantrell.

“In combination with the ability to save money on power and green energy, this means that more and more companies are looking to the north.”

Car manufacturer BMW is an oft-quoted example of a company that uses Verne Global’s facilities for both these reasons, and reportedly saved 80% on its datacentre power costs as a result, says Cantrell. “Other examples of customers are gaming company CCP Games and RVX, a company that handles pre- and post-processing for movies,” he adds.

Verne Global caters to both SMEs with just a few servers and enterprises with many thousands. “Our product is not just real estate, but also infrastructure,” says Cantrell. “We act as a logistics agent who makes it possible for our customers to connect to the green and cheap power in Iceland.”

It has taken a lot of work for Verne Global to get to this position. When the company was founded in 2007, Iceland’s lack of connectivity to the rest of the world made building datacentres there problematic, says Cantrell.

“When we started, we had only one single connection – to the UK. So we worked together with the Icelandic government to increase the connectivity.”

The company's first customers moved into the campus in February 2012, and numbers have grown quickly, says Cantrell. “We doubled our capacity in both 2013 and 2014, and we continue to grow. And we do not only grow in our datacentres, but also in connectivity.”

Worldwide connectivity

The Icelandic campus is now connected to the rest of the world via several high-capacity, multi-terabit-per-second links.

“We are a carrier-neutral datacentre, and the more carrier options there are in a datacentre, the more choices the customers gets,” says Cantrell. “This also gives our customers price advantages.”

The latest carrier to get on board is global provider Level 3 Communications, which plans to build an IP-driven point of presence (PoP) in Verne Global’s Icelandic campus.

“This collaboration was nearly destined to happen,” says Cantrell. “Level 3 has a very large footprint, a wide range of services and a very deep portfolio. What Verne Global offers Level 3 and its customers is a datacentre with low costs and with end-customers all over the world.”

Cantrell stops short of revealing too many details about the collaboration, but says it is an important development for Verne Global. “It is a big plus for our sales team to be able to offer direct access to a company of Level 3’s calibre,” he says.

The 44-acre Verne Global datacentre campus is 20 milliseconds from London and Paris, and 41 milliseconds from New York, which makes it suitable for database hosting, cloud computing, research projects, general business applications and disaster recovery, says Cantrell.

“We are strategically placed in the middle of the Atlantic, between North America and Europe,” he points out. “The fact that we are located as a hub is one of the biggest advantages of our datacentre.

“Many customers want to have secure traffic between our site and their sites, without carrier operations – that is important for companies with high security demands.”

The site is also located at a former Nato air base in Keflavik, in the south-west corner of Iceland. “We chose to locate in an industry development area, where we could take advantage of how Iceland’s power companies collaborate with aluminium smelters – they have long-term contracts, which means we can get 20-year contracts on power,” says Cantrell.

“And the location is very safe – Nato chose it, so that pretty much says it all.”

Cantrell does not want to disclose the capacity of the campus at the moment, but says it has the potential to grow to more than 100MW.

“We have recently raised new capital – £65 million – and we will use it to develop more datacentres. They are very capital-intensive – that is one of the reasons why companies are keen on outsourcing. The market is growing very quickly, and the new money lets us pick up on not only current demand, but also prepare for future needs.”

This was first published in August 2015

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