Home Technology Iceland: the land of fireside, ice… and digital infrastructure? – Institutional...

Iceland: the land of fireside, ice… and digital infrastructure? – Institutional buyers

 Iceland: the land of fire, ice… and digital infrastructure?  - Institutional investors

5 years in the past, I could not have imagined being on a aircraft to Iceland within the identify of fairness analysis. What modified in that interval was a dramatic evolution in the best way we use the web. Companies embraced cloud knowledge storage, synthetic intelligence “AI” rapidly caught up with people, and Netflix allowed us to impatiently binge-watch video-on-demand.

As a thematic fairness investor targeted on international cities, I witnessed these developments creating big demand for digital infrastructure: the information facilities, cell towers, and fiber optic cables that make up the plumbing of the Web.

Initially, this infrastructure was constructed round main world cities akin to London, Washington DC and Singapore. Pioneering tech corporations like Amazon and Google naturally gravitated to the place their clients lived and labored.

Nevertheless, 5 years later, sources have grow to be scarcer, land costs have skyrocketed and knowledge connectivity has improved. The tech giants are shifting their focus to the place their providers are actually rising the quickest. These embody the following set of developed European cities – Madrid, Vienna and Berlin – in addition to key cities in rising markets that we take into account to be ‘the digital frontier’. (Learn extra concerning the digital border right here).

It’s vital that sustainability is on the high of the company agenda as Europe goes by means of an vitality disaster.

At first look, the sparsely developed volcanic island of Iceland, with a inhabitants of 376,000, is an unlikely hyperlink for these developments. In reality, it is about as removed from a worldwide metropolis as my market analysis has taken me.

As my taxi makes the 40 minute journey from the airport to the capital Reykjavik, the place 60% of the inhabitants lives, we cross huge lava fields. I see snow-capped mountains within the distance and immobile lakes accompanied by the unusual brightly coloured home.

Supply: Ben Forster, November 2022.

However as I method the outskirts of city, I am stunned to see a miles-long smelter that produces greater than 200,000 tons of aluminum yearly for its proprietor, Rio Tinto Alcan. The smelters arrived within the Seventies to reap the benefits of Iceland’s distinctive entry to dependable hydropower and geothermal vitality, overtaking fishing because the dominant trade in 2008.

The digital infrastructure trade joined them a couple of decade in the past, profiting from the commercial energy infrastructure operated by nationwide provider Landsvirkjun. Different sights included a proliferation of undersea fiber optic cables connecting the tiny island to North America, the UK and continental Europe. After I get to my resort, I am keenly reminded that the local weather can also be predictably chilly – excellent for naturally venting energy-guzzling laptop servers.

I am in Iceland to go to Verne International, the main knowledge heart operator on the island, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Spending time with administration groups, seeing belongings and assembly underlying clients are nice methods to “blow up the tires” when contemplating an organization’s potential.

Verne is situated on an ex-US naval base subsequent to Keflavik airport, which means bodily safety on arrival unsurprisingly stays tight. After a rigorous check-in, we go to the management heart, earlier than strolling by means of the large knowledge halls and seeing the distinctive cooling infrastructure, all of which assist put the sheer measurement of the operation into context. By 2021, clients within the facility used the equal of 10,000 households’ value of energy whereas leaving a carbon footprint of simply 70.

These credentials helped entice Verne’s new house owners, funding fund Digital 9, who acquired the corporate in September 2021, unlocking the following period of their development. After 10 years of bootstrapping as a start-up firm, the corporate appears to have reached breakout velocity as buyer demand grows quickly.

Whereas on website, I had the chance to listen to from one among their first main clients in 2012, BMW, who described the enchantment of the extremely environment friendly, low-carbon computing energy on provide.

One solution to illustrate effectivity is to supply a Energy Utilization Effectivity (PUE) as near 1 as doable: see chart beneath.


Funding concepts are sometimes hatched alongside the best way as deeper and extra diverse conversations are doable. Over dinner, I had the sudden pleasure of listening to from specialists within the metaverse, glacier science, and international connectivity – all of that are forces shaping the way forward for the information heart trade.

With oil and fuel costs rising throughout Europe attributable to provide disruptions, Verne estimates it at present gives a 75% cheaper service than friends in main European cities. Verne has room to broaden and enters into agreements with Landsvirkjun to realize entry to renewable energy capability that’s turning into more and more scarce elsewhere.

A brand new 1,700km submarine fiber optic cable connecting Iceland to Galway in Eire has simply been accomplished and will probably be commissioned in 2023. Such developments price greater than $100 million and may open up Iceland as a digital hub for extra corporations throughout Europe.


As I sifted by means of piles of rapidly typed notes and pictures on the aircraft residence, I discovered myself interested by incentives and the environment friendly allocation of sources. Why do not we put all our laptop servers in Iceland? The straightforward solutions are resilience and velocity.

Simply as we attempt to construct diversified funding portfolios to handle danger, infrastructure diversification makes for a extra resilient web. That is of utmost significance for high-stakes functions, akin to monetary exchanges, the place failures can result in heavy fines. If a submarine cable is snapped by a fishing boat or if a volcanic eruption causes floor flight, the digital infrastructure trade is nicely ready with back-up knowledge cables, vitality storage and off-site amenities.

For such customers, each millisecond of latency or outage actually counts, which means they’re going to pay a premium to place their servers near the purpose of consumption and their technicians. Likewise, many people will solely wait a number of seconds whereas watching the spinning wheel that tells us our content material is loading, earlier than clicking away or refreshing.

These sorts of workloads nonetheless should be saved close to main inhabitants hubs. Subsequently, knowledge heart lessors with well-positioned amenities in places akin to London ought to proceed to get pleasure from sturdy demand. Together with a restricted provide, the situations are in place for hire will increase.

This may lead the perimeter buyer to suppose twice about whether or not their much less time-sensitive functions ought to occupy prime actual property.

Automotive engineers at BMW use their Icelandic servers to run extraordinarily advanced aerodynamic simulations at night time and assessment the ends in the morning. VW Group can also be a tenant of Verne’s and this month reiterated its dedication to a carbon impartial IT technique, transferring extra of its computing sources to Scandinavia over time. IT groups that want rather less direct entry to their knowledge can attempt to optimize for efficiency, carbon footprint, and value.

We due to this fact consider that “{dollars} per millisecond latency” and “per kg of CO2 equal emissions” could grow to be necessary metrics for knowledge heart consumers, alongside “{dollars} per sq. foot” and “per kilowatt of energy.”

Sustainability should stay on the high of the agenda as soon as excessive and risky vitality costs stabilize. We count on better trade transparency round standardized metrics akin to Carbon Utilization Effectiveness and Water Utilization Effectiveness, enabling clients, governments and buyers to allocate extra knowledgeable sources.

As these developments unfold, we see a brilliant future for digital infrastructure within the land of fireside and ice.

A video about Ben’s journey to Iceland is on the high of the web page.

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