Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, December 3, 2022

Icelandic Data Center Cuts Power Costs, Carbon Footprint for ThreatMetrix 


One can envision Iceland – an island country so remote it makes you wonder at the navigational prowess of the 9th century mariners who settled there, a place of exotic natural wonders and harsh natural elements, that at times (most recently, during the economic collapse of 2008) has suffered economic hardship – coming into its own as a global data center services dynamo powered by sustainable geothermal and hydroelectric energy and connected to northern Europe and North America by strands of increasingly high-capacity, low-latency fiber optic cable.

As technology companies grow more data intensive, the escalating cost of operating and cooling sprawling data centers is forcing hyperscalers to look for alternative solutions. Take ThreatMetrix, the San Jose-based security technology company that profiles online transactions in real time and verifies digital personas to detect fraud for Visa, Airbnb, the Bank of Dubai, Ticketmaster and thousands of other companies. ThreatMetrix analyzes more than 15 billion annual transactions and protects more than 210 million active user accounts across 4,500 customers and 30,000 websites.

Verne Global data center, Keflavik. Iceland / Source: Verne Global

In sum, ThreatMetrix has extreme data center needs and a strong motive to minimize its energy expenditures. A few years ago, as the company geared up to expand its data center capacity, ThreatMetrix set for itself the goals of lowering both opex costs and its carbon footprint. These objectives put the company on a path to Iceland and one of the country’s biggest data center services providers, Verne Global, a co-location and wholesale data center supplier with a 44-acre facility in the southwest part of the country. Verne’s campus, the site of a former NATO airbase, provides access to 100 percent sustainable geothermal and hydroelectric energy networks and is near telecommunications infrastructure that enables access to undersea data delivery systems.

ThreatMetrix will initially put its Iceland data center to work in the dual role as an R&D facility and a disaster recovery site for its European customers. Iceland is not an EU-member country but it is part of the European Economic Area, which gives it access to the single market of the EU and allows companies to store sensitive data there in compliance with EU security and data residency requirements.

Phil Steffora, ThreatMetrix’s Chief Security Officer and SVP of Technical Operations, told EnterpriseTech he has visited the Verne Global campus several times, and said it offers a combination of data center capabilities and cost savings that no other providers could compete with.

“They don’t have a consumable resource that is driving the cost of that energy," said Steffora. “There’s the cost to maintain and build the equipment, but they’re getting the energy out of the ground or they’re getting it from water, so there isn’t a cost for oil or coal or gas (extraction), so it drives a base cost that’s only about 25 percent of the cost per KW hour in the UK or on mainland Europe. Then when you add on top of that you’re not spending as much as 70 percent of your energy dollar cooling, you get to a point where the energy cost is a fraction of what you’d be spending in a comparable facility. And the real estate costs are much lower as well… We put it up against a number of competitors in a lot of locations, and across the board there was very little the competitors could do to come anywhere close to offering something at that price point.”

He said ThreatMetrix also is pleased with the low environmental impact.

“We were looking for a provider that gave us ready access to (the European market) at a reasonably low cost, and also from a sustainability perspective…certainly we’ve been looking at reducing the effect of what we do and how we operate our business, and Verne allows us to be a true zero carbon footprint business, and so what we operate there will be done in a sustainable and responsible way.”

He said that while ThreatMetrix uses “conventional” IT equipment, the company operates at a hyperscale level with rigorous availability requirements.

Phil Steffora of ThreatMetrix

“They’re very conscious of uptime requirements,” said Steffora. “We have a requirement to have always-on power, and then to be able to leverage the fact that it comes from 100 percent renewable sustainable sources makes it a really a unique place. Certainly the weather also plays a great factor…, eliminating the need to put in expensive cooling equipment, so it’s a very efficient, low PUE operation.”

Operationally, the initial Verne implementation will support the disaster recovery requirements of ThreatMetrix European customers, working in a back-up role to the company’s primary European data center in The Netherlands.

“It will be an active site for our European customers,” Steffora said. “We’ll have their data there, it will be replicated in real time and we’ll have the capability of servicing transactions out of either of those locations, whether forced by some sort of environmental reason or a network issue..., we can move all that traffic (to Iceland).”

As for the latency challenges of moving data from Keflavik (site of the Verne data center) to, say, London (1,200 miles away), Steffora said Iceland is investing heavily in telecommunications connectivity between Iceland and both Europe and the U.S.

“In the last few years a lot of infrastructure improvements have been made in both telecommunications and other areas between the UK as well as other European countries, they have a lot of fiber (optic channel) capabilities,” Steffora said. “For latency response times, we’ve run tests ourselves, it’s not any worse than going across mainland Europe. It’s better than a lot of places, actually.”

He said enhancements to undersea connectivity between Iceland and the U.S. is expected to be in place within the next 18 to 24 months. “That’s something we're watching closely…, today those services are more limited. So we’re seeing (the Iceland data center) as more of a European disaster recovery site, but as that improves and when those services come online we may be able to leverage it for North America as well.”

For Verne Global, ThreatMetrix is the second major win in the past five months. In September, the company announced that Volkswagen will be moving more than 1 MW of HPC applications to Verne's campus.

“ThreatMetrix represents the type of forward-looking, data-intensive company that are turning to Verne Global to manage workload optimization and stay ahead of data and computing challenges as they look to scale,” said CEO of Verne Global, Jeff Monroe. “As application processing requirements continue to accelerate, Verne Global is able to provide ThreatMetrix with the reliability, security and seamless expansion that it demands.”

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