Case study: How Advania maintains a low PUE in its Icelandic datacentre

Advania's Thor datacentre near Reykjavik uses Iceland's natural energy resources and free air cooling to maintain a low PUE

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When Advania Data Centres wanted to build an environmentally-friendly and cost-effective IT facility, it selected Iceland as a location, both for the country's ambient cool temperature and its geothermal energy. 

Today, Advania’s Icelandic datacentre has a PUE of 1.16, which most European organisations can only dream of.

Nordic IT services company Advania got into the datacentre business when it acquired Thor Data Center in Reykjavík. Since the acquisition in 2011, Advania has been running and managing the Thor datacentre.

The datacentre site currently contains two modular datacentre containers, but has room to accommodate four more containers. Unlike traditional datacentres, which come with their own array of complexities, customisations and considerations, a modular datacentre is a pre-configured datacentre-in-a-box that can be transported and set up anywhere in the world where there are cooling facilities and a connectivity network.

With Visa and Opera Software as its biggest public clients, more than 44 million users go through Advania’s Icelandic datacentre every day.

Keeping datacentre power requirements low

One datacentre container is exclusively for one of its customers, Opera Software. “Opera wanted an individual, private, cloud-like set-up, and it runs a lot of CPU-intensive applications, so we have one entire modular datacentre dedicated to Opera,” says Benedikt Grondal, chief technology officer of the Advania Thor datacentre.

The power requirements for the facility dedicated to Opera are higher too, he says. The Opera datacentre processes about 20Tbit of data per second and needs 14KwH of cooling capacity.

The other container is used to serve other customers, including Visa, UK academic institutions such as the Hertford Regional College, and some local companies. This facility requires 8KwH of cooling power.

The company’s datacentre facility uses outside air for cooling and draws on Iceland’s geothermal energy to power the servers and other equipment.

Half of a datacentre's power is used for cooling. “With free air cooling, we cut our power use by half, saving a lot of money,” says Advania's Kolbeinn Einarsson.

According to some experts, datacentre operators over-cool their infrastructure, which makes it energy-inefficient. Each increased degree in temperature requires less cooling, so less energy is needed, making the datacentre more energy-efficient and slashing energy bills for the enterprise.

Advania keeps the temperature at around 20-21ºC, rather than sub-20ºC. In addition, the Advania Thor datacentre site uses indirect free air cooling. “We have heat exchangers and air filters that help us control the humidity and the air quality,” says Grondal. Purer air and controlled humidity also ensure longevity of the servers, he adds.

Even if air is at a temperature suitable for cooling, it still has to be treated to ensure the right humidity and filtered to catch particulates that could cause problems in the datacentre. For instance, a high moisture level in the air can lead to deterioration of some metals in the server units, while air that is too dry can lead to issues with static electricity, as well as the growth of dendrites.

Iceland's renewable energy is pocket and environmentally-friendly

But why did Advania choose Iceland for its datacentres? 

“We could have chosen Sweden, which also offers free air cooling and meets most of our needs, but Iceland was the only one offering us renewable energy in the form of hydro and geothermal energy,” says Einarsson.

Using renewables to power the datacentre brings down the cost further because it is cheaper than electricity produced in the rest of Europe using other means, such as nuclear power plants.

“The energy prices in Iceland were another big factor that tilted us in favour of Iceland,” says Einarsson. It is possible to lock energy prices for a 15-year period in Iceland.

“On the contrary, power prices in Europe are constantly rising by about 20% every year. If we were to build the same datacentre in the UK, it would have cost 30-50% more, and it wouldn't be as green as it is now.”

While the datacentre has a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.16, efficiency could be further improved if use of the datacentre space was optimised.

Individual containers have a lower PUE, but the overall datacentre is still not full to capacity, so a lot of cooling is wasted on empty space, according to Grondal. When Advania adds more datacentre containers, the PUE will come down even further, he says.

PUE, created by the members of The Green Grid, is a metric used to determine the energy efficiency of a datacentre. It is calculated by dividing the total energy used across the whole of a datacentre by the amount of energy used to power the IT equipment.

The Uptime Institute estimates that most facilities could achieve 1.6 PUE using the most efficient equipment and best practices. But the industry average PUE of datacentres in the UK is around 2 to 2.2.

Advania’s Icelandic datacentre is a Tier 3 datacentre. The tiered system, developed by the Uptime Institute, offers companies a way to measure return on investment and performance. The standards are comprised of a four-tiered scale, with Tier 4 being the most robust. “It is so efficient that we call it Tier 3+,” says Einarsson.


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