Connecting the world’s greenest data centre

Connecting the world’s greenest data centre

Built into the mountains of Stavanger, Norway, in what was formerly a NATO ammunition storage facility, is now one of the world’s most secure and energy efficient data centres.

For site owners, Green Mountain, the transition from ammunition storage facility to data centre was not without challenges. They were faced with confined spaces, existing structures and the need to install a reliable piping system to cool the server racks. The site, however, was also not without benefits – not least the cold Norwegian climate to keep data cool at lower costs and the vast supply of hydroelectric power. It has therefore proved to be a sensible investment for Green Mountain CEO, Kristian Gyland.

Together with Victaulic, a provider of mechanical pipe joining systems, and pipe installation contractor, Sig Halvorsen, Gyland overcame the many challenges that the site presented, constructing a truly unique data centre.

From storing weapons to storing data

The facility was constructed by NATO in 1964, during the height of the Cold War. The site initially spanned across three halls, and, in 1994, was extended to double its storage capacity to house mines and torpedoes.

Following the de-escalation of geopolitical tensions, NATO no longer required the facility and decided to sell in 2009. And what NATO no longer needed, became a golden opportunity for Green Mountain’s first data centre.

“We opened this facility in 2013, with our first three customers. Since then we have continued to expand the site as we’ve grown. Today, we are covering 22.000 km² under the mountain and expect to reach full site capacity in 2023,” said Gyland.

Secure and sustainable in Stavanger

When they learned of the location, it was obvious to Green Mountain that the site offered several opportunities that were too good to pass up. Although the construction design would be challenging, the business potential was there.

In the data centre industry, storing data in a secure environment is of utmost importance. Green Mountain had a vision that if a mountain could keep NATO’s weapons secure, then it could also keep data secure; and they were right. According to Gyland, the Stavanger site is one of the most secure data centres in the world. A feature which can be largely attributed to the centre’s location within the mountain.

As well as being secure, the Stavanger site is located within close proximity to the fjord, home to one of Europe’s lowest-priced sources of hydroelectric power. The data centre could therefore operate at lower costs, as well as with a sustainable power source. Together with a vast supply of hydroelectric power, the site benefits from a cold Norwegian climate, providing a cost-effective means to cool data.

“We are located close to a fjord and the water we are collecting for our cooling system has a constant temperature of 8 degrees, meaning that we can use the outside to cool the data centre on the inside. So, in addition to the site being the most secure data centre in the world, it is also the most energy efficient data centre in the world,” stated Gyland.

Looking for versatility and durability

Designing and installing a piping system in an existing structure is never without its challenges and turning an existing structure into a data centre adds an additional level of complexity.

Faced with confined underfloor space, existing structures, and the need to have a system that is reliable and easily maintainable, Green Mountain needed an efficient pipe joining system, in addition to an installer that could do the job. Because Norway is heavily involved in the oil and gas business, welding is a common method of joining pipes in the region. However, the site needed more flexibility than welding could offer. It was important to Green Mountain that they had the ability to easily expand the facility as their business grew. Victaulic offered the ideal solution, but with one concern for Green Mountain; would it last?

“When we were presented with the mechanical pipe joining solution in 2012, it was only natural for us to use this technology for our piping systems. Using a system that is not welded provided us with the flexibility we needed and was a huge cost saver since it allowed us to build in phases. We didn’t have to make assumptions on where future data racks were going to be placed, and where the cooling system should run; we were simply able to build as we grew and add customers,” commented Gyland.

“The only concern we had when we installed a grooved system in our facility was whether the joints would last over time,” continued Gyland. “But having operated for close to 6 years now, we’re confident that this is a solution we will continue to work with, and we are happy with the way it’s working here at Green Mountain Data Centre.”

Beyond the flexibility and reliability of mechanical pipe joining solutions, Gyland was also pleased to partner with a manufacturer that aligned with their values on sustainability.

“As one of the most energy efficient data centres in the world, it is also evident that one of the key areas of prioritisation for Green Mountain is sustainability. As the installation of the grooved system avoids toxic fumes and gases and is produced in a production facility which uses 90% recycled material, the solution fitted our company’s sustainability efforts seamlessly.” noted Gyland.

Overcoming installation challenges

Sig Halvorsen was the contractor tasked with installing the cooling system in the Green Mountain facility. Their employees are familiar with grooved pipe joining solutions, particularly within data centres. Frode Horpestad, operations manager at Sig Halvorsen, who worked on the Green Mountain installation, stated that the pipe joining system allowed his team to overcome some of the site’s installation challenges and even cited these solutions as an aid in winning additional projects.

“It is a simple system to learn and has simple check methods to ensure proper installation. Our employees also received close follow-up from the manufacturers’ representatives on the construction site if required – so it has worked very well. Using a flexible and robust technology has many advantages, for example utilising this pipe joining system allows us to use the same crew on every construction site, and we do not require certified welders for joining the pipes,” Halvorsen commented. 

Considering the internet wasn’t invented until several years after the Stavanger NATO facility was built, it is safe to assume the engineers of the time never foresaw a day where the location would become a world renowned data centre. But as it turned out, the safety and security of a mountain, with a nearly unlimited hydro-power supply and cool climate, made for the perfect location