Behind Iceland’s Green Cloud

By Nicole Hemsoth

August 17, 2010

We recently reported on the entrance of GreenQloud into the cloud space, a company which dubs itself as the “provider of the world’s first truly green public compute cloud” –a statement that, by the way, raised some hackles in the community following the announcement of its status as being first in the great green cloud frontier.

According to GreenQloud’s self-description, their IaaS cloud is “powered by 100 percent renewable geothermal and hydropower energy from Icelandic providers” There are powerful words embedded in their slogans, at least in terms of what they invoke in the environmentally-conscious user’s mind…and there is no doubt about it, this is a company that chooses its marketing lingo very carefully.

If we are to assume that GreenQloud is the first one to come up with the idea of laying claim to an Icelandic datacenter and powering it with geothermal energy, then there is something worth considering in this company’s announcement. The problem is, it’s difficult to find proof for who was the first in Iceland (or do they mean in general?), even though we can be relatively certain that unless something drastic happens (like, I don’t know, a major volcanic eruption or something equally catastrophic) that they will not be the last.

HPC in the Cloud recently conducted an email interview with GreenQloud’s CEO, Eirikur Hrafnsson about being the first in the space, energy and cost specifics, and of course, the disturbing possibilities inherent to storing one’s precious data on the same relatively small island where volcanic activity has become part of daily life.

HPCc: GreenQloud’s statement is that it is first in this niche space, but some argue that this is not the first time and other companies have pursued the same route. Do you have a proof point that what you are doing is unique and truly a first?

Hrafnsson: Although there are definitely some green web hosting companies in the world e.g. running on solar power plus carbon offsets we are 100% sure Greenqloud is the world’s first truly green public compute cloud. Truly green means we run on a 100% clean and renewable power grid. Currently Iceland is the only country in the world that can say that and we are its only cloud provider.

HPCc: How much cheaper is this model than regular electricity?

Hrafnsson:  I think you mean how much cheaper is our electricity vs. somewhere else or coal etc.

The price per kWh varies immensely over the world but energy prices are getting higher every year. With no dependency on fossil fuels we are immune to fluctuating fossil fuel prices and can get a 20 year foreseeable pricing contract that is below most prices in Europe and in the US.

That being said it’s not the cheapest because you can of course get temporarily cheap but non-sustainable energy in many parts of the world. So the energy prices are good and when you combine that with our free cooling because of the cool but tempered climate of Iceland we also get savings (less cooling cost) and better, more efficient, data centers.

HPCc: If it is cheaper then is it possible for you to pass savings on the ender user?  If not why not?

Hrafnsson:  We will pass the savings to the end user. Greenqloud is not a premium service, the cheaper energy is one of the reasons why we can do that. There are other future and present savings involved in using Greenqloud as well. Greenqloud will be the first of the clouds to transparently show everyone its total energy usage by displaying a live counter on Greenqloud.com. We then break the energy usage down for each user for any of their virtual computing resources so they can watch their energy use for their carbon accounting.

This information they can use to avoid carbon taxes and save twice. Once for not having to buy carbon credits and secondly for avoiding the taxes. Then we top our energy galore by showing the user in understandable terms how much CO2 they have saved and will save that year according to their usage. In the US it has been recently suggested that a carbon tax starting at $21 should be taken up (carbontax.org). In the UK it has already started and will be implemented full force in January 2011. And with the European Union putting a requirement of 20% reduction of Greenhouse gasses across the board, there is a great incentive to use a truly green cloud.

So being green saves you money. Another thing that saves you money e.g. is our cloud data storage. If you are a customer that needs to deliver content to both the North American market and the European market with reasonable latency by using a service like S3 for example you would think that would be as simple as putting a file into one of the AWS availability zones. What many don’t realize is that files in S3 don’t get copied across borders. Meaning you have to pay for twice if you want to reach both audiences. Iceland is right in the middle of North America and mainland Europe and with our redundant multi terabit and low latency fiber cables to both of them you only have to put your data in one place.

HPCc: What does your geothermal paradigm mean for customers in the U.S., for instance? Why is this relevant to them?

HrafnssonSee above. But to add to that…

The ICT industry is now putting out 2% of the global co2 emissions (Gartner) equal to the airline industry but is growing much faster and could be one of the biggest polluters by 2020 (McKinsey). With the current growth rate of the Internet it is clear that we cannot solve the problem simply by using more efficient hardware. We have to attack the problem at the source, the energy source. So what can the user do? Well seeing public clouds are growing 5x faster than any other sector of IT (IDC) isn’t that the best place to start? So as a user you can make a difference by choosing a truly green cloud, not just because of your usage but also because then the industry might start moving towards the energy source solution.

HPCc: How will GreenQloud compete with Amazon, Azure or Google, since you have no name branding?  Is the “power of green” enough to drive significant customer adoption?

HrafnssonHow about direct clustered storage? Infiniband network and storage fabric. Better data protection laws than anywhere else? More choice in VM sizes? Enterprise monitoring built in? And being the first public cloud to have Amazon AWS compatible API’s so you can easily scale out to Greenqloud or switch? Name branding doesn’t come over night but we are working on that and we will get there fastest through strategic partnering and by getting our eco friendly message across.

HPCc: For many firms, you’re in the category of an off-shore company, what about security, what about compliance, what about disaster recovery?  After all, Iceland has had some, shall we say, volcanic activity–so what happens if the island blows? What happens to customer data?

Hrafnsson:  Off shore can be a plus e.g. for European companies that don’t want to host in the US and vice versa. We don’t expect to get financial institutes from day one but then again that’s not just the problem of being off-shore but simply that they don’t trust public clouds yet. Legal matters will come clear before we launch but in a nutshell we have equal status with EU laws now and are about to get even better data protection laws for our clients (http://immi.is). Iceland has a lower risk index then the US and the UK.

The eruption of Eyjafjalljökull was a great 100 year test. Absolutely nothing happened to our electrical grid, inland communications or network connections to the world. The majority of data centers are built in the south west part of Iceland – in the opposite direction of prevailing wind currents so the ash barely reached those sites and even if it had we wouldn’t have had any problems with it. Furthermore we use more than one data center for data safety. Iceland is not a small island, it is a little bit smaller than England, about the same size as Kentucky. Your data is safe here.

HPCc: What about the datacenters in Arizona powered by solar or the Microsoft power via hydroelectric energy – why and how is this essentially different from what GreenQloud is doing?

Hrafnsson:  Well show me a data center 100% powered by renewable energy that can easily grow with us and I would love to make an availability zone there. You might find the list is very short to empty e.g. take a look at the Greenpeace report on the top players. According to that none of the data center in the US are 100% renewable. The fact is they use less than 15% renewables on the average and that is mostly being skewed by the few data centers in North Carolina that got to take over the bankrupt factories there and because they get very good pricing, for now.

There are, however, new datacenters being built e.g. in Scotland that claim to be 100% green and hopefully they will start to pop up everywhere! We hope to grow the brand to other locations of course but we don’t really need to because we can also partner with other clouds to become their green availability zone.

HPCc: Similar vendors often have specific market and applications they target but it’s difficult to see who your targets are, outside of those who will be swayed by the power of green. What is your market or application focus?

Hrafnsson:  North America and Europe’s public cloud customers and customers targeting those audiences. From SMB’s to Enterprises. We also intend to target the educational market by peering with high speed university networks and by offering a HPC like infrastructure and high performance. Next year we will have a few surprises up our sleeves as well. But more on that later.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Researchers Scale COSMO Climate Code to 4888 GPUs on Piz Daint

October 17, 2017

Effective global climate simulation, sorely needed to anticipate and cope with global warming, has long been computationally challenging. Two of the major obstacles are the needed resolution and prolonged time to compute Read more…

By John Russell

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Cluster Competition coverage has come to its natural home: H Read more…

By Dan Olds

UCSD Web-based Tool Tracking CA Wildfires Generates 1.5M Views

October 16, 2017

Tracking the wildfires raging in northern CA is an unpleasant but necessary part of guiding efforts to fight the fires and safely evacuate affected residents. One such tool – Firemap – is a web-based tool developed b Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Transforming Genomic Analytics with HPC-Accelerated Insights

Advancements in the field of genomics are revolutionizing our understanding of human biology, rapidly accelerating the discovery and treatment of genetic diseases, and dramatically improving human health. Read more…

Exascale Imperative: New Movie from HPE Makes a Compelling Case

October 13, 2017

Why is pursuing exascale computing so important? In a new video – Hewlett Packard Enterprise: Eighteen Zeros – four HPE executives, a prominent national lab HPC researcher, and HPCwire managing editor Tiffany Trader Read more…

By John Russell

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Read more…

By Dan Olds

Intel Delivers 17-Qubit Quantum Chip to European Research Partner

October 10, 2017

On Tuesday, Intel delivered a 17-qubit superconducting test chip to research partner QuTech, the quantum research institute of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 10-year, $50-million collaborative relationship with TU Delft and TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Research, to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Tapped to Build 37-Petaflops ABCI System for AIST

October 10, 2017

Fujitsu announced today it will build the long-planned AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) which is set to become the fastest supercomputer system in Japan Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Intel Debuts Programmable Acceleration Card

October 5, 2017

With a view toward supporting complex, data-intensive applications, such as AI inference, video streaming analytics, database acceleration and genomics, Intel i Read more…

By Doug Black

OLCF’s 200 Petaflops Summit Machine Still Slated for 2018 Start-up

October 3, 2017

The Department of Energy’s planned 200 petaflops Summit computer, which is currently being installed at Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, is on track t Read more…

By John Russell

US Exascale Program – Some Additional Clarity

September 28, 2017

The last time we left the Department of Energy’s exascale computing program in July, things were looking very positive. Both the U.S. House and Senate had pas Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Intel, NERSC and University Partners Launch New Big Data Center

August 17, 2017

A collaboration between the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), Intel and five Intel Parallel Computing Cente Read more…

By Linda Barney

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This