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Case study: Using pre-fab datacentres to meet Norway's growing demand for colocation space

Datacentre operator Green Mountain embraces Schneider Electric's pre-fabricated datacentre designs to ensure it is positioned to respond to the growing demand from the hyperscale and HPC communities for colocation capacity in Norway

There are number of characteristics colocation users look for in a potential datacentre site, and chief among them are space to expand and consistent access to abundant supplies of low-cost energy.

These are both attributes the Nordics have in abundance, and are two of the reasons why Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland have been so heavily marketed in recent years as viable alternative locations for European colocation users to take up datacentre space.

It is fair to say the hyperscalers have taken notice of this charm offensive, with many chosing to build out their datacentre presence in the Nordics, with the help of the region’s colocation community, including the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

These firms all share a number of things in common, not least of all is how much scrutiny their power usage and consumption habits are increasingly come under from both environmental lobbyists, but regulators and government legislators too.

At the same time, anecdotal evidence suggests user organisations are also becoming more attuned to how sustainable their supply chains are, right down to an IT supplier level, meaning environmental friendliness is now an attribute an increasing number are looking for in potential cloud and internet service provider (ISP) partners.

This is another reason as to why the Nordic region is attractive, because the energy available there is not only cheap and abundant, it is also predominantly green.

According to Tor Kristian Gyland, CEO of Norway-based colocation provider Green Mountain, while the Nordics as a whole has seen demand for colocation capacity ramp up off the back of these trends, some countries in the region have benefited more than others.

“Sweden and Denmark have done a really good job of attracting the big players. We’re a little bit behind [in Norway], but it is rising and we’re moving forward as well with the demand that is expected for the future, and there is a enough business for all of us,” he told Computer Weekly.

A limiting factor, perhaps, in Norway’s ability in recent years to capitalise on the growing interest being paid to the Nordics as a desirable datacentre location is the relatively low levels of fibre connectivity in the country, added Gyland.

But the picture is an improving one, particularly in light of the work the Norwegian government has put into courting overseas datacentre investors through the delivery of its Data Center Development Strategy (DCDS).

This initiative is already cited as playing a contributory role in persuading Amazon and Microsoft to build server farms in the country since its introduction in 2018 with its promises of tax breaks for operators, as well as support in sourcing suitable cold-climate sites for their facilities.

“The focus on Norway is really high at the moment, and the main reason for that is because we’re the only country in Europe with 100% renewables production, and we have the cheapest power,” said Gyland.

“Several new fibre cables are being established and finalised within this year, and that has opened up the focus from international clients.”

All this activity has conspired to increase user demand for colocation capacity in Green Mountain’s two Norwegian datacentres in Stavanger and Telemark.

“The market trends today are our clients challenging us to deliver faster because their growth is quite enormous,” said Gyland.

A portion of this demand is coming from the hyperscale cloud and internet community, which has a tendency to demand access to high quantities of colocation capacity at relatively short notice. Such circumstances can leave operators scrambling, as they seek out ways to bring online new capacity as quickly as possible.

At the same time, Green Mountain has also found itself fielding requests – particularly where its Telemark facility is concerned – from the high performance computing (HPC) community, prompting it to announce sizeable extension of both its datacentres in late 2018.

These plans included adding a further 4MW and 3MW of colocation capacity at its Stavanger and Telemark sites, respectively, with the assistance of one of its long-standing suppliers, Schneider Electric.

Telemark datacentre
Telemark datacentre

Specifically, Green Mountain decided to draw on Schneider’s pre-fabricated, modular datacentre design expertise to deliver the expansions at a cost of €10M, which paved the way for the 3MW Telemark expansion to go live within 28 weeks of the Schneider Electric contract being finalised.

“The [customer segment] we are mainly working with on pre-fabricated is the HPC community due to uniqueness of our second datacentre in Telemark, which is an area with access to very large amounts of hydro power nearby,” Gyland said.

“Access to renewable power in the area is really high and so is the ability to negotiate long-term, competitive power contracts, which is why we’re chasing the HPC market from that location.”

To that point, several weeks after announcing the 3MW capacity expansion of its Telemark datacentre had gone live, Green Mountain revealed Volkswagen Group had agreed to house some of its HPC workloads in two specifically designed, 2.75MW data halls at the facility.

These workloads will be specifically targeted at helping the motor manufacturer progress its vehicle development efforts by enabling crash test simulations and virtual wind tunnel tests to take place there.

Speedy datacentre deployment

Without going down the pre-fabricated datacentre design route, Gyland said bringing online such a large amount of capacity so quickly would have been virtually impossible.

“The design work involved with building a datacentre usually takes two to four months, if you are starting from scratch without a reference design,” he said.  

“So by utilising the reference design for these pre-fabricated models, we’re able to reduce the time it takes [from the initial] order to it being ready for service dramatically so we can be more responsive to our clients’ needs.”

The additional capacity at the Telemark site was delivered through the deployment of 15 Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Modular Data Center Power and Cooling modules, packaged together with the company’s medium-voltage and low-voltage switchgear, along with its EcoStruxure datacentre management software package.

The modules arrived via road transportation in Telemark after being pre-assembled and tested within Schneider Electric’s factory in Barcelona.

Speaking to Computer Weekly about the project, Dave Johnson, executive vice-president of Schneider Electric’s Secure Power Division, estimates the pre-fab approach enabled Green Mountain to shave around 3 months off the delivery time for its Telemark datacentre expansion.

“You do get speed by taking this approach, but you also get reliability because you have a solution that is built in a factory rather than on site, and you’re saving all the labour required to build it out as well,” he said.

Tightening up the technology partnership

The Telemark project is notable not only because of the strict timeframe the pair were working towards, but because it also marked a tightening up of the technology partnership the pair had previously shared, said Gyland.

During the build-out of Green Mountain’s first datacentre (which is located underground within a former NATO ammunition storage facility in Stavanger), Schneider secured several contracts pertaining to the deployment of the site’s cooling systems and installation of its uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) technology, among other things.

“When the datacentre was completed, it ended up being a 70% Schneider datacentre, which is when we decided to work more closely with Schneider, and challenged them a year later to [work with us] on our second datacentre location in Telemark,” said Gyland.

“In that period we decided to move our relationship from a supplier-customer to a real partnership, where we’re chasing and challenging customers together. We’re innovating together. We’re using the knowledge in both companies for us to grow our revenue and for Schneider to grow theirs.”

The firm also has designs on building a third datacentre in Oslo sometime later in 2019 to ensure it remains well-positioned to meet Norway’s growing demand for colocation capacity.

“As I think about the partnership going forward, this story… is really just the starting point,” said Johnson. “We have the opportunity to innovate on what the solution is from a product standpoint, but also the process of how we deploy, and find ways to drive the [deployment] speed up even further and focus on driving up the quality even higher during the process of our work together.”

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