Slashdot.org recently had a post about Iceland getting seed money to start a datacenter initiative. And while you might think that Iceland would be a great place for datacenter due to its cheap power and cold temperatures, it is not that simple.
Previous Article: Iceland Woes Data Centers as Power Costs Soar
New Article: Iceland’s Data Center Push Finally Gets Traction
Powering a server takes electricity and for every watt used to crunch numbers more has to be used for cooling. So the total power used to run a server is actually equal to the energy to power it and the energy to cool it. While this can be a significant reoccurring cost, it does not equal the upfront cost of purchasing the equipment. The total power cost for the lifetime of a server is somewhere around 30% of its purchase price. Don’t quote me on those numbers, they are just ballpark. But they give you an idea that total power costs are not as much as you would think. Although with that said, power consumption by datacenters doubled from 2000-2006. That is why everyone is looking for a way to make them cheaper to run. But why Iceland?
Points on Power:
Iceland is a ready source of cheap power. The Icelandic Ministry of Energy & Commerce puts the nations peak power at around 60 TWh a year. That is a lot of power, but is it cheap. They also state that only around 10% of that is harnessed. That means they will need to increase their power infrastructure drastically to get to that big 60 figure. Infrastructure is never cheap. So while they might have the power to harness, it isn’t cheap, because it doesn’t exist.
Putting something hot in a cold atmosphere makes it cold. True. But servers are not a tea kettle or pot. Outside air is not as useful for cooling servers as one would think. Particulates become an issue as does humidity. Air needs to be tempered before it is blown through servers to cool components. Too humid or too dry and it causes problems. At this point there doesn’t seem to be a simple, cheap, or easy way to harness abundant cool untempered air.
Other things to think about:
There has to be better way to use the waste heat generated by datacenters. One slashdotter brought up the possible harnessing of it for greenhouses during winter months. Not a bad idea. But by exposing the air to plants you will again have to worry about humidity and particulates.
Until someone finds a simple, cheap, and easy way to temper cold outside air, the main reason to move a datacenter is cheap energy. And cheap energy seems to be as close to energy sources as possible. Be they geothermal, hydro, nuclear, coal, or solar the closer you are to the source, the cheaper the watt*hour.
For the future:
What are the best sources of power for datacenters? Geo, Hydro, Nuclear, Solar, Coal? Renewable? Non-renewable?