Too Cool! Opera opens eco-friendly data center in Iceland

Web browser developer Opera Software  is the first customer of Iceland’s Thor Data Center. The facility is in Hafnarfjorour, the third largest city in Iceland and a neighbouring town of Reykjavík. It is one of several new data center projects underway in the chilly Northern hemisphere country.

Opera Software, which currently has over 110 million users for its browsers across the world, will move a significant part of its data traffic to the new data center.

The Thor Data Center was founded by a handful of Icelandic entrepreneurs with years of experience in the IT industry, and financed by Icelandic venture capitalists. A Thor spokesman said they only use renewable energy and will be able to handle 78 Petabytes of data – equal to about a trillion Facebook pages.

In early 2007, the government of Iceland began touting the country as an affordable destination for data center development, citing its abundant supply of geothermal power. Iceland’s Minister of Industry claims that its mid-Atlantic location makes an ideal base for companies with business in both North America and Europe. It also says Iceland’s climate makes it ideal for air-cooled data centers. The mean annual temperature in Reykjavík is -0.5°C (31°F) in January and 10.3°C (51°F) in July.

Opera will move a significant part of its electronic data traffic to the Thor Data Center via sub-sea cables run by the Icelandic submarine cable operator, E-Farice, in conjunction with Tyco Telecommunications.

cabling routes

The three major submarine cable systems in Iceland are:

Tele Greenland’s Greenland Connect system with a design capacity of 1.9 Tb/s, servicing London, UK and Halifax, Nova Scotia via Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland;

 eFarice’s FARICE-1 system with a design capacity of 720 Gb/s, running between Iceland and Scotland via the Faroe Islands;

 eFarice’s DANICE with a design capacity of 5.1 Tb/s, a four-fiber pair submarine cable between Iceland and Denmark.

“The reason Opera Software came to sign an agreement with Thor Data Center is that the company can offer us energy from 100 percent renewable sources. In coming years, Iceland will be able to provide a more stable supply of energy than most other areas in the world,” Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, founder of Opera Software explained.

Preparations for the establishment of the Thor Data Center began 18 months ago. The short time frame, from the founding of the company until it has become ready to offer data storage services to international customers, was made possible through new data center technology. This technology allows data centers to be composed of smaller units (so-called data containers), which offer added flexibility in scaling any such ventures. Data containers are basically land/sea cargo shipping containers that come with computer equipment racks, pre-wired with data cabling and power, and use either air or liquid cooling systems.

servers in cargo container
In 2006, Sun Microsystems Project Black Box opened the eyes of the IT industry to an idea that small entrepreneurs had been using for many years. In the 1990s, this writer worked with Jay Lemmons, founder of Technology at Work on several projects retrofitting cargo shipping containers for on-site AM/FM radio station transmitter equipment and their data control systems.

Thor collaborates with AST Global, a Spanish technology firm that has become a leader in the production of ready-to-use data containers. For this installation, AST’s data containers use fresh air cooling, allowing servers to run without the use of chillers for air conditioning. Thor said the container-based design allows for quick assembly of the data center, and flexibility in scaling to adapt to a client’s needs.

Reuters said that neither Thor nor Opera were able to provide financial details for the deal, but Thor said it was worth “several billion ISK.” One billion Icelandic crowns is worth about $7.8 million. That’s a chunk of ice.