Volcanoes and Data Centers

I wrote last year about Verne Global's selection of Iceland as a location for a green data center based on the country's location-specific attributes. Recent news about the large ash emissions from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano prompted me to check back with the company. Lisa Rhodes, VP of Marketing and Sales at Verne Global, offered insight on both siting and operational issues.

With respect to site selection, Ms. Rhodes noted

When starting the process, Verne Global understood that with Iceland’s geothermal power comes the by-products of that power source, which in this case includes volcanic activity...Prior to any acquisition of land Verne Global had a third party conduct a risk assessment of the site.  Specifically, the study focused on seismic and volcanic risks at the site.  The results of the study showed low risk impact by either type of event . . .Verne located the data center campus on the western part of the island on a former NATO military base.  This minimizes the likelihood of volcanic ash falling on the site due to Iceland’s predominant West to East wind patterns and provides stable bedrock for the foundation of the data center buildings.

We have previously noted Europe's repurposing of former military installations as green data centers. The likelihood that these sites had been previously assessed as geologically stable is yet another advantage of this approach.

And with respect to operations:

Verne protects equipment and personnel from volcanic ash with a combination of sub-micron air filtration and closed-loop cooling designs that harness the cooling power of Iceland’s favorable climate…Verne has set up relationships with local suppliers, technicians and vendors to support the data center locally to, again, minimize the impact of the volcanic activity on a customer’s data center operation.

The importance of assessing and mitigating geological risk to ICT extends beyond Iceland. America's Pacific Northwest, which has become a popular location for mega-data centers, is a region of volcanic activity. Many other ICT facilities are located in earthquake zones. I saw extensive earthquake mitigation measures at Direct TV's 20,000 square meter Los Angeles Broadcast Center* during work I was doing there.

* This is an example of a specialized ICT facility. It mixes conventional IT gear with video and telecommunications equipment.