Tate Cantrell is CTO for UK-based Verne Global, where he is responsible for the technical direction of one the world’s most secure and energy-efficient data centers in Keflavik, Iceland. Verne Global opened its sprawling new campus in February 2013 on the site of a former NATO air base. It is 100% powered by renewable energy resources and represents a bold, new pattern in data center design, utlilizing the prefabricated modular data centers provided by its partner, Colt Technology Services Group (formerly City of London Telecom).

Largely due to the success of the Keflavik project, Cantrell was one of three finalists for the AFCOM Data Center Manager of the Year Award in 2013. Educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Tulane University, Cantrell’s background is system administration in high-performance computing environments and electrical engineering design. Recently, Cantrell took time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions about 21st century data centers.

#1 The Iceland project is a great example of taking advantage of renewable sources of energy to power a data center. What kinds of places around the world are naturally advantageous for data center locations? What are the most important considerations when choosing a site?
When Verne Global was founded there were a couple of key criteria we knew we needed to fulfill when choosing a site for the data center campus. At the time, the data center industry power crisis was just beginning to surface. This impacted our decision by going straight to a stable, low cost, renewable power source that we were able to find in Iceland. We also knew that we needed good connectivity in and out of the country and found that with Iceland’s multiple high-speed connections to Europe and the U.S. Finally, we knew we were able to tap into a well-educated, tech savvy workforce in Iceland.

One of the things that I think our efforts in Iceland have proven is that not-so-obvious locations with the right criteria can be developed into ideal data center locations when the right team engages.  Whether it’s an ocean water cooled facility in the South Pacific or a desert location driven by solar power, the data center industry is clearly at a point where it is willing to consider out-of-the-box solutions to address the problems within the industry.

#2 Regardless of geographical location, what are the best and most cost-effective strategies for making data centers more energy-efficient? Is there a particular development or new technology that you are most excited about for continuing to reduce the carbon footprint of data centers?

The best and most impactful way to reduce the carbon footprint of a data center is to utilize primary and secondary power sources that are carbon neutral. Energy efficiency inside the data center obviously helps with reduction of both cost and power consumption but the power source is the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint.

#3 What was the most surprising thing that you learned from the experience of implementing the new data center in Iceland?

The biggest lesson learned from this deployment was how unremarkable it was. While there were certainly unique elements we encountered – shipping the Colt Data Center Services module 1000 miles over the North Atlantic ocean for installation, incorporating the Icelandic environment into the modular data center design, to name a few examples – getting the data center up and running was a very smooth process.

#4 For those businesses and enterprises concerned about entrusting their data to a multi-tenant data center complex like Verne’s – what are the security design features that you have put in place that are specific to a shared infrastructure?

Earlier this year, Verne Global was awarded the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001 certification for information security for the data center campus. We were very pleased to receive this certification as it demonstrated our commitment to protecting the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data that resides in its data center, as well as maintaining a focus on the security of all vital information assets on our customer’s behalf.

Verne Global has implemented world class security measures to ensure the safety of our client’s data and equipment while ensuring that our customers comply with all applicable industry standards. This is reflected in all aspects of data center campus with everything from 24×7 manned security with a single point of entry to the data center to a lobby with ballistic resistant glass to the nine challenge points installed between the critical equipment and the already secure Iceland terrain firma.

#5 Where do you think the most risk lies in the current distribution of data centers around the world? (Due to weather patterns, geological instability, political instability, etc.)

Data center hubs around the world all contend with risk factors whether they are created by the environment – hurricanes, urban pollution, forest fires, seismic activity – or man-made. As long as facilities are built with these concerns in mind, then the risk is mitigated upfront. In our case, we did extensive evaluations before any construction took place and we were also able to take advantage of NATO’s site selection process as the data center campus is built on a former NATO air base in Iceland. Additionally, by selecting a strong engineering partner, we were able to provide optimal protection with a closed-loop cooling system. This allows us to shut off the outside air to prevent any contamination from entering the critical environment. In the end, we have been able to provide a solution where the risks are appropriately mitigated and the benefit of an abundance of affordable, renewable energy resources shines brightly.


Verne Global’s Iceland data center is one of several featured in TechRepublic’s photo gallery, Data Centers in the 21st Century.