Science is often data and power hungry – a collaboration between Jisc and Verne Global to provide access to data centres in Iceland is delivering many benefits to the research community.

Research leading to cures for diseases and other important scientific discoveries now often relies on analysing data in a way that was previously not possible. Powerful computers are needed to process huge volumes of data at a speed that allows important work, particularly in bio and life sciences, to be carried out effectively.

Jisc, the provider of digital technology and resources to UK education and research, aids the processing of this data by providing the world-leading Janet network, which is capable of supporting clusters of academic High Performance Computing (HTC) users. The data involved in this type of research is vast – for example researchers at Earlham Institute, a leading bioscience research facility in the UK, deploy some of the largest shared memory computing resources dedicated to life sciences in Europe.

This includes the assembly of some of the largest and most complex genomes, including the 17GB wheat genome, which can take between six and eleven terabytes of memory per run. For an idea of the scale, it would take on average around seven years to play eleven terabytes of music on mp3 files.

But the demand for HPC on this scale is increasing pressure on the capacity and operational costs for data centre services, especially in locations like the UK where energy prices are high and power supply is low and insecure. HPC clusters consume a great deal of energy to power them and to keep them cool so they can operate efficiently and continuously. Spencer Lamb, director of research at Verne Global, said: “Our Icelandic location provides ultra-low cost HPC which is 100% green, and this enables research institutions in the UK to massively scale their deployments without increasing their carbon footprints.”

Through an agreement with Verne Global, Janet Network users can benefit from a secure predictable path to HPC via its data centres in Iceland. The agreement enables the UK’s academic and enterprise research community to have access to data centres with abundant, reliable power, in locations where ambient temperatures provide free cooling to keep the servers operating at optimal levels. This allows Jisc’s members in the academic research community to do more with less energy and fewer resources, with access to a power supply that is 100% green.

“Our agreement with Verne Global to connect to their facilities in Iceland could offer customers more predictable costs for HPC, powered by renewable geothermal energy. While this venture is embryonic, we are very excited about the potential opportunities this arrangement will create for Jisc’s members.” Jon Tucker, Jisc Executive Director Members and Customers

Verne Global’s Icelandic data centre provides the ability to process, analyse, and store large amounts of data and optimise computing capacity, while reducing carbon footprints. This ensures long-term, sustainable computing and connectivity for Jisc members. Additionally, this power supply can help lower the total cost of ownership on power by more than 70% when compared to UK energy pricing.


This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.