Keeping it cool for high performance, sustainable, colocation services


atNorth is a Nordic data centre services organisation based in Reykjavik, Iceland offering environmentally responsible, power-efficient, and cost-optimized data centre hosting facilities, with the capabilities to deliver high-performance computing (HPC) services. 

By working with Subzero Engineering, a provider of data centre containment solutions, the company was able to standardise its approach to HPC colocation; using a scalable, energy efficient, and ultra-secure, fault-tolerant cold aisle containment (CAC) methodology to replicate its sustainability and performance capabilities across multiple sites.

“High-performance computing (HPC), when implemented correctly can help organisations handle vast amounts of data in a short amount of time due to specialised hardware and software,” Andy Connor, director – EMEA channel, Subzero Engineering, says. “HPC also comes with many challenges, including a high operational price tag. Compared with traditional data centres, the HPC data centre will have higher electricity consumption due to more powerful processors, higher density servers, and specialised cooling requirements for the IT equipment. This requires that all HPC data centres have the latest energy-efficient strategies to drive down energy costs and maintain high system reliability and sustainability, which always includes either cold or hot aisle containment.”

Supporting high performance computing

atNorth data centres offer Tier III, redundant design, and the ability to support rack densities ranging from 40kW – 100kW make it ideal for organizations using high-performance computing (HPC) to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. With operations in Stockholm, Sweden and Reykjavik, Iceland, the company’s mission is to offer more compute for a better world, leveraging innovative data centre designs, power efficiency, and intelligent clusters to support the disruptive technologies used by customers. This includes workloads that require High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure, such as simulations, scientific calculations, artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, and blockchain applications.

At its Icelandic Thor DC and Mjölnir DC colocation campuses, the company continues to push the boundaries of Nordic data centres; using 100 per cent renewable energy resources from hydropower and geothermal sources to power their facilities, which are optimised for ultra-energy efficiency, maximum reliability, and industry-leading performance.

With this approach that incorporates direct free air cooling and carbon-free energy, atNorth delivers a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating below 1.2 at its Tier III Mjölnir DC. A strategy that offers customers a reduced total cost of ownership (TCO), increased operational and energy efficiency, and a secure, scalable data centre platform to protect the long-term lifecycle requirements of their infrastructure deployments.

The role of standardisation

When designing its second 80MW, Mjölnir DC data centre campus in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland, atNorth was looking for a containment partner that was able to deliver to demanding timescales. The company required a high-quality, robust, and secure containment solution that would offer the ability to standardise their design, while delivering repeatable performance, sustainability, and efficiency capabilities across multiple sites.

“Standardisation helps us provide a highly flexible and quick to deploy solutions for our customers,” Connor adds. “As was the case with atNorth, it ensured that all product installs, both current and future, can be quickly scaled across all sites without compromising on what’s important: efficiency, security, performance, and sustainability.  Standardization also helps in lowering the price of containment deployments, thus making it even more cost-effective for our customers, while still providing design flexibility and future growth for their data centre.”

Further, due to its reputation for sustainable HPC and colocation, and for building long-term customer relationships, the company was looking to establish a new supply chain partner who could work with them as the company grew.

A new work paradigm

Working to meet the company’s requirements for speed, efficiency, and precision, Subzero Engineering quickly engaged with Jóhann Þór Jónsson, atNorth’s director project management and business development. Rather than offer a simple proposal containing a product specification and cost, the companies’ engineers provided consultative expertise from a remote location in the USA, offering valuable insight that would help to future-proof the data centre and meet growing customer demand.

“While engineering face to face consultations still have their place, remote consultations add several benefits to many of our customers,” Connor continues. “For example, instead of waiting a few days, meetings can be arranged within a few hours as needed. Fast engineering consultation response time on our side results in faster designs and ultimately quicker deployments while simultaneously lowering customer cost. We use remote consultation as often as possible to ensure our customers get the best containment solution while providing it to them in as little time as possible.

“The world has changed a lot in the past two years. Video remote consultations can be easily arranged around our customer’s schedules and across several time zones, and we’re finding that our customers appreciate and are very comfortable with this technology. For new construction, remote consultation is the preferred method of consultation. For existing data centres, we’re using remote consultation more and more since it still enables us to see the current infrastructure while also allowing us to quickly determine and design the best possible containment solution for customers.” 

Flexible containment solution

Once a relationship was established, Subzero specified its Essential Plus+ product line, offering a vendor-neutral, quick-to-deploy, and flexible containment system. “Subzero Engineering has given us a standardized, repeatable, and physically secure containment system, which fits well with our own philosophy,” said Jóhann Þór Jónsson, Director Project Management and Business Development, atNorth. “They have offered us a flexible containment solution, focused on both performance and efficiency, but which is easy to customize with the changing requirements of our intensive computing customers.”

While all containment projects are unique, what remains the same is that sustainability and efficiency are still at the core of all Subzero containment solutions and deployments. “Since atNorth was looking for a design that would enable them to use free air cooling and that was also carbon-free, this particular cold aisle containment solution was the perfect choice for their infrastructure and future growth,” Connor concludes. “In other self-cooled regions, hot aisle containment may be used, again depending on infrastructure and other factors. Regardless of which solution is deployed, both will yield similar energy and efficiency savings, with potential PUE benchmarks of 1.2.”

Further, the synergies between the companies were clear from the outset, both having values ingrained with pushing the boundaries of performance, sustainability, and energy efficiency. “As a business, we’re always focused on the long-term objectives of our customers, and we choose to work with companies whose values are aligned with ours,” Þór Jónsson, adds. “Subzero Engineering remained service-minded, agile, and worked to truly understand our business: providing a consultative, value-add and intricate data centre solution that meets our demands for performance and efficiency both now, and in the future.” 

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