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Iceland will keep your servers cool

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Renita Jablonski: How about a new business idea from Iceland? After its biggest banks collapsed last October, investors may be wary. But the island’s latest plan has nothing to do with high finance.
Alongside its fishing, the country wants to take up . . . data farming. From Reykjavik, Stephen Beard filed this report.

Stephen Beard: After the calamitous excursion into global banking, Iceland has a new message for the world: send us your computer servers and we’ll keep them cool.

Behind this electronic door lie several acres of empty space. It’s a vacant warehouse in a former U.S. Navy base. Now, Willy Torsteinsson wants to fill it with computers.

Willy Torsteinsson: Well, this is it. This is our data center. This is the warehouse that we are converting for our servers.

Willy runs Verne Global, Iceland’s first server farm. He’s hoping to persuade some of the biggest companies that operate on the Internet to base their servers here. Iceland’s low temperatures are an attraction:

Torsteinsson: Because we don’t have to spend a lot of electricity cooling the computers down once we have actually run them.

Beard: All you have to do then is just open the doors and let the wind blow through.

Torsteinsson: Yeah, basically that’s pretty much it.

Iceland has another advantage: a reliable supply of low-cost electricity to run the servers. That power is generated by glacial run-off and by hot water and steam piped up from beneath the Earth’s crust.

It’s plentiful power, says Gudni Johannesson of the National Energy Authority:

Gudni Johannesson: We are producing electricity five times more than we need for our own normal, domestic use. So we have a lot more to give of renewable energy.

Iceland’s electricity is carbon-free. That’s another reason why companies should place their servers here, says Thor Bjorgolffson, owner of Verne Global. He says power-hungry data centers using carbon-fired electricity are very polluting:

Thor Bjorgolffson: By the year 2020, data centers will be a bigger carbon emitter than the airline industry. And certainly, people can see more regulation coming online in terms of carbon emissions.

Bjorgolffson is controversial. He owned a chunk of one of the banks that went bust last fall. No way will his server farm repair that financial damage. But, say his supporters, it’s the kind of clean, green business that might help restore Iceland’s tarnished image abroad.

In Reykjavik, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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