Iceland Promoted as Future Data Haven
The Vatnajokull glacier is located in the southeast of Iceland. With its more than 3,000 square miles is the largest glacier in Europe.
Credit: K. Cardon

Formerly known as the rocky landmark you encounter after turning right at Greenland, Iceland is now being touted as the land of the future for information technology – and the reason has nothing to do with silicon.

Iceland's allure stems from the fact that the maximum safe operating temperature for data center equipment is 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). Yet with the latest high-density circuits, one rack of computer servers (19 inches wide and about six feet tall) can emit as much heat as multiple kitchen ovens.

Without massive air conditioning to remove the heat, the servers will happily cook themselves to death. And power for those air conditioners is not free.

In contrast, the highest temperature ever recorded in Iceland is 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius). The average daily high in July in Iceland's capital of Reykjavík is a non-sweltering 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). Air conditioning in Iceland is a matter of just opening the windows.

Green and cheap

Verne Global, a wholesale data-center hosting company in Arlington, Va., has been actively promoting Iceland as a data center Mecca.

Verne Global spokesman Ryan Boger said the electricity there costs about four cents per kilowatt hour, and customers can get 20-year fixed price contracts. The U.S. average is about 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

Meanwhile, Iceland's electricity is generated by geothermal power, making it environmentally friendly. Customers don't have to worry about future carbon legislation that would tax dirty power, Boger told TechNewsDaily.

Corporate taxes are low as well, and the technical workforce is highly trained and speaks English, Boger added.

And while Iceland is an island, it is far from isolated: It has three undersea cables offering a total throughput of eight trillion bits (or about 37 Blu-Ray discs worth of data) per second to both Europe and North America.

Cold shoulder

Not everyone's sold on the idea, however.

"The information technology talent pool in Iceland is probably not that large, and you won't find it easy to persuade your own data center personnel to move to Iceland," said Nik Simpson, an industry analyst with the Burton Group in Huntsville, Ala.

Consequently, anyone planning an Icelandic data center better increase their remote management technology, because retaining a staff in Iceland could be a problem, Simpson cautioned.

And besides, Simpson added, there are places with naturally cold air that are more accessible, such as Scotland and northern Canada. Indeed, Scotland lately has had some success attracting data centers, touting cold air and green electricity derived from wind and water power.