Volkswagen Group has opened a new computer center in Norway that operates sustainably and climate-neutrally on 100 percent electricity from hydroelectric power.
The waterfall plunges hundreds of meters down the mountainside. Torrents of water make their way to the valley basin floor with enormous power. The small Norwegian town of Rjukan lies at the foot of this valley, around two and a half hours by car from the capital city Oslo. Such dramatic displays of nature might impress the tourists, but to the natives they are part of everyday life. “We have a few more waterfalls here,” says Runar Espeland, smiling at the awe-struck visitors from Germany.
Runar Espeland is service manager at the company Green Mountain. He and his family live in the valley, and the water and its power are the foundation of his employer’s business model. Green Mountain has established a computer center here in Rjukan that runs on 100 percent electricity from hydroelectric power. The servers in Green Mountain’s halls run CO2-neutrally. Green computing power, sustainable and cooled energy-efficiently by the Norwegian climate.
Volkswagen and Audi have started utilizing the computer center in Rjukan for vehicle development projects as of this week. The system was expanded specifically for the two Group brands. A new complex consisting of Data Halls C and D was constructed on the Green Mountain premises in only six months. These halls are supplied with up to 2,750 kilowatts of power – that generates plenty of computing capability that Volkswagen and Audi will apply to projects requiring considerable amounts of it. The plan is to run simulated crash tests on the computers in Rjukan as well as virtual wind tunnel trials.
These types of operations are not time-sensitive, but very complex. Outsourcing these high-performance computing projects (HPC) relieves the Group at the home venues where the computer centers are primarily used for directly business-relevant applications. And it reduces CO2 emissions. In comparison to a conventionally operated computer center, the facility in Rjukan saves more than 5,800 tons of CO2 annually.
Volkswagen in Hall C
Anyone who wants to enter the halls first has to pass through a secure access control system and be identified by a fingerprint scanner. Keycards and ID numbers are required to open the doors. The servers are set up in long rows inside the bright rooms. There is still plenty of room in the server racks; the system is designed to be expanded on a continuous basis. More than 2,800 servers are to be installed by the end of 2019. The number will increase to a maximum of around 5,600 in the long-term. Now the halls still smell of fresh paint and the cables gleam in glowing colors under the neon lighting. Sensors constantly measure the room temperature and humidity, in order to keep the conditions as consistent as possible.
“We are continuously adding to our capacity”
“We support the digitalization in all areas of the Volkswagen Group,” says Mario Müller, head of IT Integration and Services at Volkswagen Group. “The demand for computing capability in the company is growing along with new technologies and digital forms of cooperation. That’s why we are continuously adding to our capacity.” Mario Müller justifies the decision in favor of Green Mountain this way: “Both business operation aspects as well as sustainability are important to us. The new computer center in Norway is compelling on both counts. The operation is economical and wholly climate-neutral.” The Group already operates a climate-neutral computer center in Iceland (Reykjanesbaer). That location is about the same size as its counterpart in Norway and saves around 6,200 tons of CO2 a year.
“Large quantities of hydroelectric power are at our disposal here in Rjukan,” says Ole Sten Volland, Green Mountain CTO, during a tour around the facility. No fewer than six hydroelectric power plants in the mountains – one above ground and five underground – are located in close proximity to the computer center. Five percent of Norway’s total energy is produced here in the valley, the two times 500 megawatt supply connection to the national power grid is less than a kilometer away. “It’s highly unlikely that we will ever have a power supply problem here in the valley,” says Volland.
These conditions had already made Rjukan an attractive industrial site in the past. From 1905 onward, saltpeter was produced using the power generated by the 104-meter high Rjokanfossen waterfall, which marked the starting point of Norwegian hydro-electric power usage on an industrial scale. As a result, the valley experienced a big economic boom, and roads and railway connections were built. Today the Norwegian government vigorously promotes the utilization of power from renewable energy sources for new branches of industry, for example, in climate-neutral data centers, Volland explains. Tax breaks, low energy prices and stable political conditions make Norway an ideal location, says the CTO. After building a data center near Stavanger and the facility in Rjukan, Green Mountain is already planning their next location in Oslo.
Besides the political climate, the natural one also speaks for operating a computer center in this region. The average temperatures in summer are around 14 to 15 degrees °C (57.2 to 59° F) in Rjukan, so the servers can be cooled with the ambient air. In winter, however, temperatures of minus 20 degrees °C (-4° F) aren’t rarities here; a popular ski area lies above Rjukan. Volland tells us that now and then he is asked if that isn’t a bit too much of a good thing, and if cold weather and snow could affect the computer center’s operations. The CTO smiles. “The Hall C and D construction period took place in the middle of winter. You know, if someone feels cold in Rjukan, they just dress a bit warmer. Believe me, we can handle it.”