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Blog
09.11.2022

The First 10 Years

Verne Global celebrates a decade of data center operations with a celebration of friends, colleagues and customers in Iceland

Last month Verne Global celebrated our tenth anniversary. Since we first opened our campus doors in 2012, sustainability and efficiency have been at the heart of our mission. We searched the planet for the optimal location for data centers and realised pretty quickly that Iceland ticked all the boxes. Our decision to locate our first campus in Iceland paved the way for our customers to optimise the location and infrastructure of their high-intensity workflows and applications. 

Today, we are expanding that mission to reinvent how the world uses data centers. We are powering the journey to sustainability for organisations that are as serious about their high intensity compute as they are their carbon footprint. Whether it’s our hyper-connected central London campus or an eye to the future across the Nordics, we deliver sustainable data center solutions that enable organisations to cost-effectively scale their digital infrastructure while reducing their environmental impact. 

To celebrate this momentous occasion, Verne Global invited its investors, key customers, employees and partners to Iceland to celebrate ten years of live operations at Verne Global. We invite you to have a scroll through the photos of the people and places that made this all possible. 

Blog
12.09.2022

Verne Global and Endor: Creating Opportunities

In the first of a series of guest partner blogs, Gudbrandur R. Sigurdsson, product and business development manager for Endor, shares how Endor's partnership with Verne Global is delivering data centre infrastructure solutions their customers need while maximising revenue opportunities.

The team at Endor has had a long working relationship with Verne Global for more than 10 years now. We started partnering with Verne Global when it first opened its doors in 2012 through a previous company the Endor management team was working with at the time. Seeing the growth and opportunity of the data center industry, we formed Endor in 2015 as a way to provide strategic consulting and services on everything IT related, from tailored cloud solutions to infrastructure investments. 

We believe in supporting data center customers by offering efficient, scalable and easy to use solutions tailored to meet an organisation’s needs. In the early days that meant focusing on issues like logistics, importation of hardware, VAT issues, customs clearing, etc. Over time that grew to include installing large clusters of high performance computing (HPC) servers, as well as providing maintenance and monitoring services on the hardware installed in the data center. 

Our relationship with Verne Global and its customers has enabled new business opportunities for Endor. For example, we began working with Atos, a European digital transformation company focusing on cyber security, cloud and high performance computing, through the mutual relationship of Verne Global’s early flagship customer, BMW. Success in Iceland led to Endor taking on more responsibilities on other shared projects across Europe. Rapid growth in these areas has now led to Endor subsidiaries in both Sweden and Germany

Perhaps more importantly, Verne Global and Endor have come together in a way to address a key customer pain point within the industry. If you look at the HPC ecosystem, there are specialisations at every level of the compute stack, requiring engagement with multiple service providers. However, the purchasing ecosystem is seeking simplification in this area – they want less steps for the same thing. 

At Endor, we make it simple. Instead of customers going to Verne Global for data center space and then coming to Endor for service and support throughout the lifecycle of the hardware, we are offering a turnkey solution for customers. Moving from the legacy purchasing environment, we now offer a branded bundle service – be it for dedicated capacity or cloud services or HPC – which combines the expertise in the racks themselves with the expertise of the data center. The simplicity of the solution addresses the customer need and puts Endor in the exact right spot at the right time to be able to offer those services for our customers.

By partnering with Verne Global, we are delivering data centre infrastructure solutions our customers need while maximising our revenue opportunities. We are also doing it in a sustainable way that doesn’t harm the planet. Thanks to Iceland’s clean grid and stable climate, we are able to cut costs and energy usage. It’s a winning proposition for everyone.

Blog
05.09.2022

Digital Media On The Edge of Transformation

With consumers afforded a rich choice of high-quality film, TV and online media, digital media infrastructure is adapting accordingly to cater to ever-changing consumer demand. Florence Grist takes a look at what this means for the industry.

In January 1926, the engineer and inventor John Logie Baird first demonstrated a working television to an audience of scientists from the Royal Institution. Almost a century later, 27 million UK households own a TV and enjoy the choice of hundreds of available channels and streaming services. Film and TV production expenditure has never been so high, nor has the quality of film produced. Viewer experience is more immersive than ever before and the possibilities for today’s film and TV producers seem limitless. 

The entire digital media industry has shifted forward technologically – the production facilities and platforms that used to be inaccessible to the average person have become widely affordable and utilised, whilst high-end filmmakers work with the most advanced HPC technology to realise imaginative concepts. Watching the closing credits of a film, you may notice various new roles listed that wouldn’t exist without HPC. ‘Render wranglers’, for example, are based in render farms, where supercomputers use parallel computing to produce large quantities of CGI animation in the shortest possible time. The quality of CGI is taken to new levels by HPC-supported AI software. Simulations that mirror the natural systems of physics and chemistry deliver unbelievable scenes believably, and advanced applications that capture human expression manifest emotion through half-animated characters like Josh Brolin as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, resulting in a captivating fusion of fantasy and reality. 

Nowadays, viewers are afforded a rich choice of high-quality film and TV, which creates competition amongst providers to keep up with current trends. To consumers, accessing the content they want when they want, wherever it’s available is more important than loyalty to a given brand. Those that optimally provision the most popular content, win. That is, until content available elsewhere becomes the next best thing… 

The underlying digital infrastructure that facilitates broadcasting is adapting accordingly to cater to ever-changing consumer demand. In the first instance, this is achieved by understanding what viewers want to see on their screens. The tools to harness that information grow more advanced and intuitive every day. IoT data collectors and sensors identify patterns from large pools of data in real-time, forecasting future trends from current ones and developing better consumer-provider relationships. 

Data mining technology is most effective when positioned close to consumers in strategically located facilities, which leads us to edge computing. Edge computing involves a transformation of the digital infrastructure behind broadcasting. Rethinking the island-like status of the data centre by distributing IT resources to local cloud and colocation branches has numerous benefits for both consumers and providers. The HPC experience is brought close to home with incredible 5G download speeds and reduced internet traffic. For context, 5G is up to 100 times faster than 4G.

Viewers also want the portability to move between providers depending on where content and products take them, which is becoming easier to do thanks to edge virtualisation software. Virtualisation software works both to facilitate consumer flexibility and to optimise the edge computing network. It expands the potential per hardware device, in that viewers can access content from multiple virtual platforms from fewer devices, and are less limited by issues of incompatibility created by brand commitments. Virtualisation software acts as a mid-point between branches and the core, reducing the need for long-range communication as virtual resources can be allocated locally. The filtering of data in strategically positioned branches further reduces latency by ensuring that only the most valuable insights are being fed back through the network. The result is an overall more efficient and sustainable model.

Other benefits of edge computing include the specialisation of branches. As developers of similar media industries store their resources in the same place, colocation providers can adapt their infrastructure to best support in-house technology. The balance between edge computing resources and a core HPC hub, otherwise known as hybrid IT, is just as important. On-site facilities are needed for added security to protect the most sensitive data, and to act as a mothership for the entire network. 

Obtaining end-to-end, own-brand digital infrastructure is not the goal for today’s vendors. It’s those that understand the value of flexibility in an age of growing choice, and cater to that through collaboration, that will be most popular with consumers. The creativity that drives the digital media industry is empowered by the high capability levels of production technology available, and new digital infrastructure will enable us to optimally broadcast this creativity to the world.

Blog
05.09.2022

Digital Media On The Edge of Transformation

With consumers afforded a rich choice of high-quality film, TV and online media, digital media infrastructure is adapting accordingly to cater to ever-changing consumer demand. Florence Grist takes a look at what this means for the industry.

In January 1926, the engineer and inventor John Logie Baird first demonstrated a working television to an audience of scientists from the Royal Institution. Almost a century later, 27 million UK households own a TV and enjoy the choice of hundreds of available channels and streaming services. Film and TV production expenditure has never been so high, nor has the quality of film produced. Viewer experience is more immersive than ever before and the possibilities for today’s film and TV producers seem limitless. 

The entire digital media industry has shifted forward technologically – the production facilities and platforms that used to be inaccessible to the average person have become widely affordable and utilised, whilst high-end filmmakers work with the most advanced HPC technology to realise imaginative concepts. Watching the closing credits of a film, you may notice various new roles listed that wouldn’t exist without HPC. ‘Render wranglers’, for example, are based in render farms, where supercomputers use parallel computing to produce large quantities of CGI animation in the shortest possible time. The quality of CGI is taken to new levels by HPC-supported AI software. Simulations that mirror the natural systems of physics and chemistry deliver unbelievable scenes believably, and advanced applications that capture human expression manifest emotion through half-animated characters like Josh Brolin as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, resulting in a captivating fusion of fantasy and reality. 

Nowadays, viewers are afforded a rich choice of high-quality film and TV, which creates competition amongst providers to keep up with current trends. To consumers, accessing the content they want when they want, wherever it’s available is more important than loyalty to a given brand. Those that optimally provision the most popular content, win. That is, until content available elsewhere becomes the next best thing… 

The underlying digital infrastructure that facilitates broadcasting is adapting accordingly to cater to ever-changing consumer demand. In the first instance, this is achieved by understanding what viewers want to see on their screens. The tools to harness that information grow more advanced and intuitive every day. IoT data collectors and sensors identify patterns from large pools of data in real-time, forecasting future trends from current ones and developing better consumer-provider relationships. 

Data mining technology is most effective when positioned close to consumers in strategically located facilities, which leads us to edge computing. Edge computing involves a transformation of the digital infrastructure behind broadcasting. Rethinking the island-like status of the data centre by distributing IT resources to local cloud and colocation branches has numerous benefits for both consumers and providers. The HPC experience is brought close to home with incredible 5G download speeds and reduced internet traffic. For context, 5G is up to 100 times faster than 4G.

Viewers also want the portability to move between providers depending on where content and products take them, which is becoming easier to do thanks to edge virtualisation software. Virtualisation software works both to facilitate consumer flexibility and to optimise the edge computing network. It expands the potential per hardware device, in that viewers can access content from multiple virtual platforms from fewer devices, and are less limited by issues of incompatibility created by brand commitments. Virtualisation software acts as a mid-point between branches and the core, reducing the need for long-range communication as virtual resources can be allocated locally. The filtering of data in strategically positioned branches further reduces latency by ensuring that only the most valuable insights are being fed back through the network. The result is an overall more efficient and sustainable model.

Other benefits of edge computing include the specialisation of branches. As developers of similar media industries store their resources in the same place, colocation providers can adapt their infrastructure to best support in-house technology. The balance between edge computing resources and a core HPC hub, otherwise known as hybrid IT, is just as important. On-site facilities are needed for added security to protect the most sensitive data, and to act as a mothership for the entire network. 

Obtaining end-to-end, own-brand digital infrastructure is not the goal for today’s vendors. It’s those that understand the value of flexibility in an age of growing choice, and cater to that through collaboration, that will be most popular with consumers. The creativity that drives the digital media industry is empowered by the high capability levels of production technology available, and new digital infrastructure will enable us to optimally broadcast this creativity to the world.

Blog
07.08.2022

Verne Global’s Sustainability Call to Action

From its inception, sustainability and efficiency have been at the heart of Verne Global's mission. Now, as the industry works towards standardisation and transparency of reporting for sustainability and efficiency, Dominic Ward shares Verne Global's market-leading metrics and targets. These critical components help customers make an informed decision about data center infrastructure and where their data should be processed and stored.

From the inception of Verne Global, sustainability and efficiency have been at the heart of our mission. We searched the planet for the optimal location for data centers and decided upon Iceland. It remains the only country in the world that generates all its energy from renewable sources. Iceland has set the global benchmark for sustainability and continues to lead the way. It also has the perfect climate for operating data centers with a year-round temperate climate that enables free cooling every day of the year for even the most intense infrastructure.

After a decade of uninterrupted operations, we look back on our decision to locate our campus in Iceland with clear and simple validation that we may have been early, but we were right. Our first customers were bold, forward-thinking, and perhaps a little ahead of their time. They saw the cost, efficiency, and sustainability benefits of optimising the location and infrastructure of their workflows and applications. Now, ten years on, this kind of optimisation is critical and easier to achieve than ever before.

Optimisation of location and infrastructure

Only recently has the global data center industry finally grasped the importance of sustainability and efficiency, largely driven by customer focus and demand. Yet, there remains no consistency in measurement, metrics, or reporting. There are many organisations working on standardisation, but it may be some time before consensus is agreed upon. 

Every data center geography will have limitations on efficiency and sustainability. It is impossible to optimise for all types of compute in one single location. Instead, the focus should be on optimising infrastructure in any given location. The ever-increasing growth and reliance on data, and the resulting growth in demand for data centers, looks unstoppable. Fortunately, one of the fundamental attributes of data is its mobility. Largely it does not have to be processed or stored in a particular location. Most data can be transported to a location where it can be most efficiently processed.

Today, we are connected by networks that shift exabytes of data around the world every day. Data is mobile and should be processed and stored in the optimal location for that specific data, whether that be in public clouds; private local or remote infrastructure; or perhaps increasingly on decentralised and distributed systems. Wherever data is located, the infrastructure to support that data must be optimised.

Greenwashing is not enough

The important question then becomes, how do you know that the digital infrastructure supporting your data and applications is optimised for sustainability and efficiency? There remains far too much ‘greenwashing’ in our industry. Simply paying more for power to create a green marketing tagline does not make a data center green. The Production Carbon Intensity (PCI), the amount of carbon used to generate electricity, in the UK is currently around 213 gCO2e/kWh; Ireland’s PCI is 389 gCO2e/kWh; Germany’s PCI is 349 gCO2e/kWh; Poland’s PCI is 736 gCO2e/kWh; whilst Iceland’s PCI is only 27 gCO2e/kWh.

There are several data center operations that lay claim to operating with 100% renewable energy in every location one could mention, regardless of the underlying energy generation source of a given location. Perhaps several years ago, Power Purchase Agreements with Guarantees of Origin for the purchase of carbon credits were sufficient to provide end users with sufficient comfort that they were doing just enough. Our industry has a long way to go towards transparent reporting. Yet, in the world we live in, with the climate challenges we are facing for our planet, is this enough and can we do more? As an industry that now has a larger and much faster growing carbon footprint than the airline industry, now is the time for greater transparency and accountability for sustainability and efficiency.

Greenhouse Gas Protocol

Certainly the larger data center users and operators are beginning to do more and recognise a holistic approach is needed. As an example, Google, the world’s largest buyer of renewable power, now reports on its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. It has set targets for Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions and should be applauded for reducing these emissions by 65% between 2011 and 2020. However, this obscures the fact that their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions have increased in the last 5 years by 152%.

Google is yet to even set targets for its Scope 3 emissions, but represent nearly double their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Their Scope 3 have also grown 726% over the last 5 years from 1.29m tCO2e to 9.4m tCO2e, which is hardly surprising given the enormous growth in their business and the industry more broadly. Even the largest data center operations are guilty of greenwashing because as an industry we have no obligation to report on a standard basis.

Verne Global’s market leading metrics

As the industry works towards standardisation of measurement, metrics and transparent reporting for sustainability and efficiency, Verne Global is proud to publish its market-leading metrics and targets. We believe these are critical components for our customers to make an informed decision about their data center infrastructure and where their data should be processed and stored.

In 2021, Verne Global’s operations generated a carbon footprint equivalent to around 70 homes’ energy for one year. Yet, we powered data center infrastructure and compute that was the equivalent of over 10,000 homes’ electricity for the year.

It is important to acknowledge that even though 100% of our power is generated from renewable sources, we still have a small carbon footprint. Even when we include our Scope 3 emissions, our total footprint is considerably smaller than any other equivalent data center operation, but we still want to ensure that we are doing the most we can. As a result, we chose to work with Votlendis Sjóður, the Icelandic wetland restoration fund that is rewilding huge areas of Iceland. Their efforts are both increasing natural carbon capture through soil stabilisation and reviving the ecosystem in the chosen areas. We hope that our contribution to this exciting project through carbon credits will help recover some of Iceland’s beautiful landscape to its natural ecology.

We have also set tough targets for Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), Water Usage Effectiveness (WUE) and Carbon Usage Effectiveness (CUE). Like many operations, we have infrastructure that was developed prior to setting these targets, but we will ensure that all future development meets or exceeds these targets.

Beyond these metrics and targets, we will always strive to lead the market for sustainability and efficiency. We announced recently that we are working with Landsvirkjun and Icelandic New Energy on a hydrogen fuel cell project to turn even our backup power sustainable. We are focused on design principles that, from the very outset, ensure we maximise building efficiency and minimise embodied carbon of our infrastructure. We are focused on the circular economy impact of our operations and have in place detailed recycling and re-use programmes to minimise the waste impact of our operations.

We acknowledge without hesitation or reservation that some applications and data need to be in geographies that are less sustainable and efficient than Iceland. However, we hope that by reporting our metrics and targets, we encourage the whole industry to increase accountability and transparency and develop best practices. At a time when the effects of the climate crisis are upon us daily, end users and customers need every tool at their disposal to make better-informed decisions about their digital infrastructure needs today and in the future.

Blog
26.04.2022

Partners with Purpose

Verne Global's Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, Alex Picchietti, talks about why strategic partnerships have been key to Verne Global’s success and how a data center ecosystem with specialized service partners can help organizations innovate for the future.

This blog is the first in a series dedicated to Verne Global technology and service partners

Born in Chicago to Italian immigrants, I found myself unexpectedly on my way to live in Iceland in 2006. Arriving in Keflavik Airport on a flight from O’hare, I guess you could say I felt a bit like a fish out of water. For those of you who get the reference, think “My Cousin Vinny.” Moving from a big city and selling networking and data center services to businesses across the United States, it might have come as a bit of a cultural shock to adapt to living in a town called Hafnarfjörður, in a country with a total population equal to the metropolitan area of Rockford, IL. Thankfully, I quickly realized that while comparatively small, Iceland had things to offer that not only interested me personally, but also provided incredible opportunities. 

Iceland sits right between the US and Europe, and all its electricity comes from 100% renewable energy sources. Like the Pacific Northwest in the United States, the power grid was originally built to service the power-intensive aluminum industry, making it one of the most modern, stable and secure grids in the world. Even 16 years ago, it was apparent to me this was a unique selling proposition. While most “green” solutions typically mean higher cost, that is not true in Iceland. Verne Global uses renewable power in Iceland to deliver services to the global market that are actually sustainable and free of carbon credits of dubious environmental value, while significantly reducing total cost of operation. 

Since Verne Global launched operations in 2012, organizations around the world have become familiar and comfortable with the idea of locating their IT equipment and applications in specialist data centers providing colocation and cloud-based services. As they did, so did the opportunity to make Iceland a meaningful addition to the global data center ecosystem. 

Verne Global’s success over the past 10 years has come from various scenarios as a data center provider. Some customers host their entire IT infrastructure with us, while others run specialized workloads on our campus in tandem with their own data center, the public cloud, or anything in between. In addition to industry-leading expertise in data center design and operations, the Verne Global campus has become the interconnect hub for all subsea cable systems and telecom providers in Iceland. We also host a number of specialized service partners providing on-site support for all the main hardware manufacturers and the most demanding customers. Verne Global’s Operations team complements in-house IT departments and service provider teams, and we pride ourselves in a culture committed to service excellence. 

I first started collaborating with Verne as a customer when I led a data center consolidation project for an IT services provider a few years ago. We chose to partner with Verne Global rather than building our own data center, as it made sense from both a business and operational perspective. As technology continues to get more sophisticated, so too has the need for specialized knowledge and service at every layer of the technology stack. 

Verne’s facilities are purpose-built at scale to support dense workloads such as high performance computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning. More generally, the campus is designed to meet the full spectrum of enterprise customer needs, creating unique opportunities for service partners to differentiate. Cloud Solutions Providers and SaaS providers use the campus as a production site for their users, or as a secure disaster recovery location. Hosting companies or MSPs looking to service the European market also choose Verne for our proximity to Europe. As part of the European Economic Area, we tick the box for GDPR compliance for an American technology company operating in Europe, for example. 

HPC, Data Analytics and AI solutions have played a big part in Verne Global’s rapid growth. Innovation in these technologies continues to accelerate and data accumulates at unprecedented rates. As more businesses further digitize and reside online, the desire to monetize that data is driving a dramatic change in how IT is being consumed. Even with the benefits of new processing technologies, getting business value from increasingly large and dynamic data sets means greater demand for compute power, and the need to support those resources. Add to this the growing concern about sustainability and the need to meet carbon emission targets, sustainable data center solutions like those offered by Verne Global will continue to increase in demand.  

An application-centric approach to IT planning enables companies to more effectively capitalize on the benefits of hybrid IT architectures, and will open the doors to scaling the use of public cloud technology and the cost-effective use of emerging data technologies at significant scale. Organizations will be most successful when they position themselves in a service partner and data center ecosystem with access to the infrastructure, space and power they need for the long term, along with the specialized service and support they need to innovate. Whatever the application, Verne Global’s partner ecosystem is ready to help plan, deploy and operate economically and sustainably.

Strategic partnerships and collaboration are key to Verne Global’s success. Stay tuned to hear from guest contributors on the data center to your data and everything in between!

Blog
29.03.2022

AI in FinTech: Managing the Finance of the Future

Florence Grist looks at how AI is benefitting the financial sector by improving productivity, enhancing the quality of services provided, and increasing profitability. One question remains – what role does sustainability play in this move towards innovation?

This year has brought with it new trends in AI as we continue to move towards a more efficient, sustainable and technology-driven world. One of the industries benefiting from these advancements is financial technology. FinTech is adopting AI more than ever before, thanks to the abundance of available data and increased affordability of computing power. AI presents a range of benefits for the financial sector, of which 80% of banks are highly aware. These include improving productivity, enhancing the quality of services provided, and in effect, increasing profitability. Many innovative FinTech startups showcase AI effectively deployed across all areas of finance, ranging from customer service to cybersecurity and more. 

In the first instance, AI is changing the face of online banking customer service, affording consumers more independence and transparency when it comes to managing their personal finances. The natural language processing (NLP) skills and emotional intelligence of chatbots are ever-progressing, proving to be a cost-effective alternative to human consultants. Solutions like Abe.ai ensure consumers enjoy the ultimate personalised experience by analysing their spending habits and providing insights and tailored advice to help them reach financial goals. NLP not only enables seamless consumer interaction, but also empowers the use of AI in cyber security by preventing fraudulent activity, something of great concern given fraud losses are expected to hit $48 billion per year by 2023. AI technologies can harness NLP with text mining and sentiment analysis to accurately identify phishing emails and fraudulent insurance claims, for example. Machine learning models can also flag suspicious transactions by analysing an array of data points such as spending behaviour and location, identifying patterns and irregularities far more quickly and accurately than humans would otherwise be able to. 

As AI technologies interpret more and more data, they rely less on human intervention and develop from executing backtesting strategies to making their own informed predictions. This means they are an incredible tool for risk management in the financial sector, outperforming humans in a multitude of ways. Some examples of AI in action include the platform Ocrolus, which digests vast datasets of personal financial records to determine loan eligibility and creditworthiness on individuals with a limited credit history, and market intelligence software like AlphaSense that produces highly accurate market forecasts, empowering organisations in their research and strategic decision making. Robo-advisors use these forecasts to devise personalised asset portfolios for investors, choosing a selection of assets in line with the goals, income and risk preferences of an individual. At an advanced level, AI responds to its own market predictions with imminent action, known as automated algorithmic trading. These systems are far more effective than human brokers because they identify patterns and secure trades in the very first instance before any opportunities are missed. Large amounts of money and effort are therefore invested in algorithmic trading because of the ROI it delivers.

Not only is AI-driven FinTech highly innovative in its own right, but it also has transformative benefits for the financial sector. AI optimises processes across the board, carrying out simple, repetitive tasks efficiently and undertaking those more complex with impressive accuracy and useful insights. It enhances consumer experience, saves time, effort and money and empowers businesses to make data-driven decisions. That said, the positive impact of the “AI revolution” in finance is reliant on us reducing the relevant risks. The 2021 OECD report on AI in Business and Finance outlines extensively the potential problems that come with deploying AI in the financial sector and how these problems can be mitigated to promote the safe development of AI FinTech. One issue is the lack of explainability of AI models, especially those that conduct credit assessments. For example, an individual could miss out on a life-changing business startup grant after their application was deemed unsuccessful by AI software and the bank in question might not be able to explain this. Lack of explainability also hides any biases created by inappropriate or poor quality data. These risks can be averted by regular testing of models – scrutinising both the data inputted and the results produced against baseline data sets. Informing consumers about the use of AI techniques in the delivery of a product is also important to ensure complete transparency and trust. 

It is also important to take into consideration the financial and environmental complications of powering these technologies. The growing interest in AI-driven FinTech coincides with a dramatic rise in the cost of power, making it wholly unsustainable to support new AI with fossil fuels – an expensive, unreliable and polluting energy source – and providing further incentive to decarbonize digital infrastructure. Verne Global’s Icelandic data centre runs exclusively on renewable energy, providing reliable, affordable computing power that has zero negative impact on the planet. The move towards Net Zero is as much about ensuring that AI is being developed responsibly as it is about fostering creativity and innovation in the field. Indeed, the bright future of FinTech rests on our commitment to clean, green energy, and our collaboration in realising AI solutions that benefit all.

Blog
04.03.2022

Moving to Net Zero

Mike Scott examines how data centres and their customers are in the spotlight for their energy consumption as the Net Zero agenda moves from aspiration to implementation.

Data has become increasingly central to life in the 2020s, a trend exacerbated by the lockdowns of the past year, which pushed work, shopping, schooling and entertainment online. As a result, data centres are going from strength to strength.

But the strong growth of the sector just reinforces how much energy it uses – and its growing contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. The IT industry is responsible for close to 4% of global emissions.

In the wake of the COP26 climate talks, a growing number of companies are committing to become Net Zero, not just in their own operations but in their supply chains as well – and that includes their IT and data centres. 

For most companies, data centres come under Scope 3 emissions – those that fall outside the direct responsibility of the company – and they will increasingly be looking to their suppliers to play their part in reducing their carbon footprint and asking them to demonstrate what they are doing. That means data centres will face growing demands to manage their emissions, measure what they are doing and report on that to customers and regulators. 

A report from the Uptime Institute points out that advances in chip technology will make large data centre operators more energy efficient, but data centres and their customers will still be in the spotlight for their energy consumption as the Net Zero agenda moves from aspiration to implementation.

According to Uptime, “to date, most of the commitments on climate change made by the industry have been voluntary. This has allowed a certain laxity in the definitions, targets and terminology used — and in the level of scrutiny applied. But these are all set to be tested: reporting requirements will increasingly become mandatory, either by law or because of commercial pressures. Failure to publish data or meet targets will carry penalties or have other negative consequences.”

 More regulation, led by the EU’s beefed up Energy Efficiency Directive, will demand much more detailed and transparent reporting. But there is some resistance to the changes that are coming. 

Many cloud suppliers and colocation providers are already highly energy efficient and claim to use significant amounts of renewable energy, as well as providing lots of energy data for clients. They will struggle to make significant further improvements, they argue, not least because clients are also demanding more resilience – and that requires more energy use.

Nor do they want to have to disclose more information about their energy and water use, and emissions, at a site level or related to specific applications.

“For operators in each part of the critical digital infrastructure sector, there may be some difficult decisions and trade-offs to make. Cloud companies, enterprises and colocation companies all want to halt climate change, but each has its own perspective and interests to protect,” Uptime points out.

Nonetheless, regulators – and voluntary initiatives such as the Science Based Targets initiative – will expect to see annual improvements in efficiency or lower emissions, and data centres will find it difficult to argue that they should be exempt from requirements that every sector of the economy is facing.

To take control of this challenge, the sector first needs to agree on what constitutes IT efficiency. This is a challenge because energy use and efficiency vary from application to application. The industry fears regulators will fail to understand the intricacies of energy efficiency in data centres, but also the consequences of having to reveal what they see as commercially confidential information about their energy and water consumption. 

Much of the low-hanging fruit in cutting data centre energy consumption has already been picked, so the industry faces a struggle to make the further improvements that Net Zero targets require. At the same time, their natural inclination to guard their performance information zealously is coming up against a new era of transparency. As the digital economy grows, data centre emissions are set to soar, and everyone will see that. The answer will be for data centres to site themselves in locations where renewable energy is plentiful, the grid is resilient and power costs are low and predictable. 

Iceland’s geothermal and hydropower-dominated energy mix, for example, allows data centres to fix prices for the long term and not worry about the sustainability of its energy mix.

The increased scrutiny and pressure to decarbonize data centres may be unwelcome to many in the sector, but it is not going away and it must be tackled head on.

Blog
07.1.2022

Greenwashing is not the answer

In his latest blog, Mike Scott, looks at the challenges of data center sustainability, why it's becoming a critical societal issue for countries around the world, and solutions having a real-world impact.

Thanks to data centres, our increasingly digital world can bring huge environmental efficiencies to a whole range of activities, but these benefits come with costs of their own.

Data centres are power hungry – and as they use water to help with cooling, they are thirsty, too, in an increasingly water-scarce world. In the wake of the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, there is growing pressure from investors and civil society for companies to reduce their carbon footprint. The focus on companies’ emissions, both direct and throughout the value chain (Scope 1, 2 and 3), is growing ever more acute.

As companies make greater use of data centres, the energy use and wider sustainability of individual facilities and the industry as a whole is more in the spotlight than ever before.

Marietje Schaake, international policy director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, said in the Financial Times recently that almost 30% of Ireland’s electricity demand will come from data centres in 2028, while the sector will also be responsible for 15% of Denmark’s power consumption by 2030.

Markets such as Singapore and the Netherlands have stopped issuing permits for new data centres because of the pressure they put on the power transmission system.

Data centre providers and users are trying a number of things to address the issue, but they do not always solve the problem. While the biggest data centre users are able to build their own renewable capacity, that can create license to operate problems if the power is not shared with the local community. For other users without the scale, buying green electricity to offset data centre energy use is one option but many power purchase agreements are opaque and do not provide a clear picture of where electricity is coming from and exactly how clean it is.

It is currently impossible, in almost every market in the world, to source 100% renewable energy 24 hours a day. You end up paying for the equivalent of the energy you consume, through the purchase of renewable energy certificates, but a proportion of your energy use is still fossil fuel. In some areas, much of the power used in data centres comes from highly polluting coal power.

At the same time, the sector’s growing use of water for cooling is adding to the strains on water resources, opening up to scrutiny data centres based in water-stressed areas and raising the prospect of problems for facilities sited in areas that will become water-stressed in future.

As sustainability becomes an increasingly important factor in data centre developments, the siting of facilities is increasingly becoming an environmental issue. At the same time, customers are becoming more comfortable in holding and processing certain types of data remotely, rather than in centres near to where it originates.

Verne Global’s Iceland data centre facility, which has recently expanded by 10MW, has a number of built-in advantages – it is naturally cold, helping with the task of keeping server rooms cool, and it benefits from Iceland’s 100% renewable energy mix, which removes any doubt about the provenance of the power used in the centre, as well as one of the world’s most affordable and stable grids.

The data centre sector is set for further explosive growth as the digital economy becomes ubiquitous. To ensure that it does more good than harm, that growth must be environmentally as well as economically sustainable.

Blog
07.12.2021

The Resource Challenge

In his second blog post of the series, Mike Scott explores the resource challenge facing the data center industry as the sector continues its exponential growth. Power, water and renewable energy all play a role in helping operators develop a long-term sustainable data center strategy that is truly green.

Data centers have helped to revolutionise the internet and enable the creation of a new digital world that is becoming integral to every part of modern life.

But running a data center takes a lot of resources – mainly energy, land and water – and as the sector continues its exponential growth, its negative environmental impacts are becoming more apparent.

According to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative’s Smarter 2030 report, the digital world comprises 34 billion pieces of equipment, more than 4 billion users, and with its associated network infrastructures and data centres, it is responsible for 2.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Data centers themselves account for 1% of the world’s electricity consumption and 0.5% of CO2 emissions.

Much of that power consumption goes towards keeping the servers housed in data centers cool. One way to do that is to use water to cool the servers in a process known as evaporative cooling, which is more energy efficient than other techniques but uses increasingly large amounts of water. But as chips become much more power intensive than they were even 18 months ago, they require ever colder temperatures to keep them cool.

The power and water consumption of data centers is so large that questions are starting to be asked about where the facilities are sited – should they be located in desert areas such as Phoenix, Arizona, where water scarcity is a real problem, or in states such as Virginia, which uses a lot of coal in its energy mix?

There are a number of tools to help customers work out the environmental footprint of their data center – Google offers a free Carbon Footprint dashboard that displays gross carbon emissions from the electricity used for any given account and it is also using machine learning and satellite analysis to help build climate solutions, so data center customers are gaining greater transparency on the impact of the facilities they use. 

Companies such as Microsoft and Facebook have committed to replace more water than they use in their data centers through measures such as fresh air cooling and running data centres at higher temperatures. 

Data centers are increasingly turning to renewable power to help decarbonise their energy use – the biggest companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft have been procuring huge amounts of renewable energy capacity directly for their own use, but that is not an option for everyone. Other users are looking to reduce their impact by using green power purchase agreements. However, it can be difficult to find out how much of your energy is actually clean, so there is a risk of greenwashing, particularly as the sources of energy become more transparent, just at the time when scrutiny is growing over companies’ green claims.

Meanwhile, the Nordic countries have attracted a number of data center operators because the cool temperatures help with counteracting the heat from the servers and a high proportion of the region’s energy is renewable, while water is plentiful. However, few jurisdictions can say with any confidence that they are 100% renewable. Iceland is one. Its abundance of cheap, green, renewable geothermal and hydroelectric power, and its central location between mainland Europe and the US make it an ideal location for data center facilities, and a number have opened and expanded in recent years.

Data is becoming further disaggregated so that those applications that are latency insensitive flow towards the most efficient data centers, while edge computing is located closer to where it is needed. As a result, there will be a shift away from the traditional regional campus approach to data centers and facilities in locations such as Iceland will come into their own.

Blog
23.11.2021

COP26: A Bright Future for Green Tech and HPC

What impact can we expect from COP26? With global finance moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, we may see a green industrial revolution thanks to green tech.

After a fortnight of intense discussions, the COP26 conference in Glasgow has come to a close. The ensuing Glasgow Climate Pact has been met with mixed views, but ultimately marks a historic achievement within reach of the 1.5°C target first set at the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. This pact, amongst other COP26 initiatives, will surely have a profound impact on the future of green technology, which now more than ever is proving to be an essential means of climate action and therefore an investment opportunity for the private sector.

The Glasgow Climate Pact states that countries should republish their climate action plans by next year, detailing more ambitious targets for 2030. Earlier in September, the UN reported that many newly submitted Nationally Determined Contributions were inadequate, moving in the right direction but at far too slow a pace with regards to the 1.5°C target. Pete Betts, the former EU lead negotiator on climate change, explained to the BBC that “the trend towards a zero-carbon world is irreversible. The question is when we get there, and what the climate will be like by then.” The pact also pledges to “phase down” the use of coal, the fossil fuel responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions and the most harmful for greenhouse gases. There is certainly progress here – this is the first time that language about coal reduction has been explicitly included in a global climate deal. The pact goes on to emphasise the need for developed countries to increase their financial help for poorer, developing and climate-vulnerable nations, many of which will struggle to adapt without financial support.

One controversial element of the Glasgow Climate Pact was the language surrounding coal. The wording “phase out” was replaced at last minute to “phase down”, as China and India opposed commitment to a total reduction of coal use before 2050. India’s climate minister Bhupender Yadav asserted that eliminating fossil fuel use within the given time frame was too large a step for developing countries that “have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication.” India has instead promised to cut emissions to net zero by 2070, though this misses the goal considerably. Alok Sherrman, COP26 president, argued that “China and India must explain themselves” to climate-vulnerable countries who will suffer from natural disasters, but the extent to which they are to blame is disputed. The struggle between the critical need for a net zero world and the industrial ambitions of developing countries is an issue of climate injustice that cannot easily be solved. 

World leaders aim to tackle these disparities through a green industrial revolution: financially supporting developing countries to industrialise in the most sustainable way possible. The technology to do this is already out there – green startups powered by AI and HPC, such as those involved in the Tech for Our Planet programme, will now receive the investment they need to make a far-reaching difference. It was unveiled early on in the talks that 450 organisations controlling 130 trillion dollars, or around 40% of global private assets, plan to direct global finance towards renewable energy and away from finite resources. What’s more, over 40 world leaders have committed to the Breakthrough Agenda, which aims to “make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in each emitting sector globally before 2030”, supporting the developing world in its transition to net zero. The plan behind the Breakthrough Agenda lacks concrete detail but individual countries have expressed their support for the program through their own initiatives, such as the UK led ‘Clean Green Initiative’ and the US and UAE led AIM4C, for example.  

Despite valid concerns about the speed at which these positive changes are being implemented, we know that we are working in the right direction. Not only have promises been made to reduce coal use and CO2 emissions, we are also tackling climate injustice by laying the foundations for green economies in developing countries, and nearing an end to government subsidisation of fossil fuels. World leaders are committing to a broader realisation of the time-sensitive, irreversible nature of the climate crisis, and that in itself is something to be celebrated.