Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Ahead in the Cloud: Going Under Ground at Norway’s Lefdal Mine Center with Mats AnderssonMay 17, 2023
Lefdal Mine Datacenter’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mats Andersson, takes us through the planning and execution of the “Norwegian Solution,” one of the greenest datacenters on the planet.
Hosted by Chad Watt, researcher and writer with the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“Creating a global product in a small place in Norway was really interesting. It was just something about this project that was a local product but global market.”
“Renewable power is one part of sustainability. The other part is that we have short travel power. If you transport power on the grid from A to B, you lose power in the grid. We have minimum transmission loss.”
“Now, many customers are moving into the cloud, which is creating a new condition for us. Customers are moving away from wanting to own or operate their own datacenters.”
“Where and why? Is it sustainable? Is it secure? Can we protect our own country with these datacenters or not? Who owns them? There's so many things going on that is bringing this fairly new industry into a more regulated, sustainable, secure, future-proof solution.”
“We also have a flexible, or modular design, meaning that we always build out what's needed when it's needed, all the way down to the different customer deployments. This allows us to build what they need to the exact point, being cost efficient and also then sustainable.”
- Mats Andersson
- We could reuse the entire mine in without doing too many amendments. It's located next to a fjord where we have cold water for cooling. There are multiple power stations and hydropower generators around the facility. A network is just outside the mine. It was really a lot of good things at the same time.
- Many customers are moving into the cloud, creating a new condition for us. Customers are moving away from wanting to own or operate their own datacenters.
- We also have a flexible, or modular design, meaning that we always build out what's needed when it's needed, all the way down to the different customer deployments. This allows us to build what customers need to the exact point, being cost efficient and sustainable. We adapt the technology that is required along the way and specifically build out areas the customers need when they need it so they don’t have more - or less - than they need.
- A datacenter like ours could spend $150 million a year in power and use that power to heat water. Heat-ed water has enormous value. We transport this water to a salmon hatchery where they can uplift the temperature to a certain degree to increase the speed of the growth of the fish. We reuse 20% of the power in our facility at the hatchery. When we do a 60 megawatt production, they don't have to spend 12 megawatts at the hatchery. This means that we become a carbon negative operation as a datacenter, re-using the power twice at 20% level.
- Renewable power is one part of sustainability. The other part is that we have short travel power. If you transport power on the grid from A to B, you lose power in the grid.
- We have one of the leading PUEs (power usage effectiveness) in the world, meaning that we use renewa-ble power, we use little of it and it's short transported.
- We reserve power for our customers. Hopefully, if a customer decides to not use that much power going forward, we will have another customer moving in and wanting to take over what he didn't want to use.
- We're 700 meters inside the mountain with a spiral going into one entrance. We have three gates to get into our underground city of datacenters; each gate is guarded 24/7.
- There is a futureproofing of the sustainability perspective where you need to prove certain aspects. Those are all new layers coming into the decision of where to place a datacenter. The Norwegian government is implementing a set of guidelines, certifications, and demands on crews to operate.
- Where and why? Is it sustainable? Is it secure? Can we protect our own country with these datacenters or not? Who owns them? This fairly new industry is becoming a more regulated, sustainable, secure, future-proof solution.
Chad introduces himself and Mats
What led you to join Lefdal?
Let me follow-up on that local market, global product idea. Were there some unique aspects about this mine, or this location, that made it suitable for this sort of project?
Tell me about the process since that, "Let's go ahead." How long has that been and what's the very brief overview that has gotten us to spring of 2023?
What do [clients] want in a datacenter now compared with a decade ago?
How does Lefdal Data Mine Center adjust or remain flexible to different demands and different specifica-tions?
Mats describes the modularity and flexible design Lefdal has in place.
What do you do with the waste heat that's generated by all these computers and these cycles?
Give me some measurements. How do you prove that this is green?
What are the flavors of renewable energy that you have available to you and how has that come about in this region?
What was the biggest barrier? What was the biggest problem you had to solve, or the biggest riddle, or challenge in front of you in getting this from concept to operation?
Thinking about you need to be constantly always on, reliable but also scalable, high and low, high and low. How do you do that in this context?
What is it about Lefdal that makes it more secure than a typical datacenter?
Mats describes how “server huggers” are now moving to the cloud.
Is there a possibility that there could be a Lefdal 2.0 somewhere someday?
Chad Watt: Welcome to Ahead in the Cloud where business leaders share what they've learned on their cloud journey. I'm Chad Watt, Infosys Knowledge Institute researcher and writer, here today with Mats Andersson, the chief marketing officer for Lefdal Mine Center.
Lefdal is a Norwegian datacenter housed in a former underground mine that offers very secure and very green compute and cloud services. We're going underground in this edition of Ahead in the Cloud. Wel-come, Mats.
Mats Andersson: Thank you so much, Chad. Nice to be here and thank you for inviting me to this podcast
Chad Watt: I understand you came on very early in this process to convert a dormant asset from an extractive industry, into an actively green tech service offering. What, Mats, led you to join Lefdal?
Mats Andersson: It was multiple things. At that time, I understood that we have a digital future, the datacenter industry is going to grow. The people that invented this idea, they were a local team that was innovators, full of inno-vation and forward looking. And that creating a global product in a small place in Norway was really inter-esting, as well.
It was just something about this project that was a local product but global market, which I liked, and differ-ent compared to other datacenters, as well. It's unique and, yeah, it was a lot of good things about that. But maybe most important was that it's building a lot of jobs locally in the region where we're actually building this datacenter.
Chad Watt: Let me follow-up on that local market, global product idea. Were there some unique aspects about this mine, or this location, that made it suitable for this sort of project? I think you mentioned you had a concept to do this and then, specifically, this location had some unique attributes that made it the one to go with.
Mats Andersson: First of all, the guys who did the mining, they did it in a very logistical way, so we could reuse the entire mine in a good way without doing too many amendments. Then, it's located next to a fjord where you have cold water for cooling.
There is multiple power stations and power generation, hydropower, around the facility. And a network is just in the road outside this mine, as well. It was really a lot of good things at the same time.
There was a big pre-project at the start where we investigated then the technical aspects of this, of course. Can we do it? Also, the market and the revenue forecast on could we get customers? After about a year and 60 people working on this pre-project, the results were quite enlightening. They were all pointing in the right direction. Yeah, let's build. Let's get financers and let's get the customers.
Chad Watt: You had about a year pre-project to figure this out, then you go give it a green light. Tell me about the pro-cess since that, "Let's go ahead." How long has that been and what's the very brief overview that has gotten us to spring of 2023?
Mats Andersson: We did spend some time after that initial pre-project building a few other facilities and doing other projects. But in 2015, we decided now it's time to build Lefdal Mine Datacenter. This has never been done before at that time. We knew that we needed to put a price tag on this, so a detailed design needed to take place. We did that. We spent a year, year-and-a-half on that.
With that in place, we also started looking at financing and the cost of financing. Then having a customer price at the end of the day. So the cards pretty much fell into place together with the customer signing and getting this financed.
In 2015, we started building this facility and it was an opening in the middle of 2017. Then later we moved in the first large customers in early 2018. That's when we went live with the project and with the datacen-ter itself.
Chad Watt: So Lefdal has been years in the making. Give me an idea of what was expected of a datacenter when you started down this road, and what you're hearing from clients now. What do they want in a datacenter now compared with a decade ago?
Mats Andersson: When this project started, that was about when cloud came and purpose-built datacenters globally. That was when people started to move their datacenters to colocations, so that was a move in itself at that time.
Our first initial design was five kilowatt per rack and the standard procedure at that time. Now we see that our next data hole is going to be 130 kilowatt per rack. The importance of security around this, the im-portance of the future-proof of a datacenter being that it's sustainable, it's secure, it's flexible for customer needs. It's high competency in the operations around datacenters. We saw a lot of customers looking for datacenters at the time.
Now, many of them are moving into the cloud. But you also now see, which is, again, creating a new condi-tion for us, is that customers and the customers are moving away from wanting to own or operate their own datacenters.
That has actually led to hardware providers now going into an Infrastructure as a Service model where they actually use datacenters, implement their hardware and do that on the lease model to end clients, so this is involving change over time. But fantastic journey and, believe me, it's not stopping there. It's going to con-tinue.
Chad Watt: That's a very true point. You mentioned the changes in specifications, the different demands from clients. How does Lefdal data mine center adjust or remain flexible to those different demands and different speci-fications?
Mats Andersson: We are very lucky in our facility with the logistics. We have an enormous amount of space, both in width and height, so we can always adapt to different housing solutions and volumes and scales.
Now, also with the cooling, we are using water, as I said earlier, which is a very flexible cooling solution that allows us to bring high densities to, of course, low. And any standard cooling solutions to now the lat-er, where we see the direct liquid cooling and other sorts also makes us a lot more efficient in transforming this waste heat into a different purpose, which is good. So we have a very good way of doing that.
We also have a flexible, or how should I say, modular design, meaning that we always build out what's needed when it's needed, all the way down to the different customer deployments. This allows us to build what they need to the exact point, being cost efficient and also then sustainable. But, also, that when we continue to scale and build for them, we adapt to the technology that is required along the way.
Chad Watt: Talk to me about the modularity and flexible design you have in place. Can you give us an example?
Mats Andersson: Sure. We have backbone of infrastructure, so we have backbone of cooling and we have a backbone of pow-er. The backbone of cooling is basically water being transported throughout the mine. Now the tap-offs of that into the different customer areas we build when the customers go live.
This is the main investment in every single customer deployment, so we can adapt the amount of water needed and also adjust the capital needed. We use the capital when the customers move in. When it comes to the power, we are doing the 400 transformation at every single customer deployment, meaning that we do a 22 kilovolt all the way to the customer area, which is low transmission.
But it also allows us to specifically build out what the customer needs of amount of power, when they need it. But also their own, for example, UPS configuration, which is not more than needed, so over-engineering, but not less, either.
Chad Watt: That's terrific. Let me come back to something you mentioned about the waste heat. What do you do with the waste heat that's generated by all these computers and these cycles?
Mats Andersson: Basically, a datacenter like ours, we could spend $150 million a year in power, and we use that power to heat water. That's what we do. We have heated water, which has enormous value in itself. We have looked into how can we use this heated water? There has been many good ideas on that.
But for us, doing this to a salmon hatchery, meaning that we transport this water where they can uplift the temperature for the hatchery to a certain degree so that they can increase the speed of the growth of the fish, means that we could reuse 20% of the power in our facility at the hatchery.
So when we do a 60 megawatt production, they don't have to spend 12 megawatt at the hatchery. This means that we actually become a carbon negative operation as a datacenter, being able to reuse the power twice at 20% level.
Chad Watt: Very interesting. Very smart there. I have been generally stipulating that Lefdal is a green datacenter, based on the efforts and things you're describing such as the reuse of the water. Give me some measurements. How do you prove that this is green?
Mats Andersson: There are so many things there, Chad Watt, but let me start by power. We simply use renewable power, 100%. There is no certificates already and nothing else. This is also one of the lowest carbon emissions on actual consumed power is in our area in Norway in the world. We're on the top list, so it's a really green power.
Chad Watt: What are the flavors of renewable that you have available to you and how has that come about in this re-gion?
Mats Andersson: We are mainly doing hydropower in our vicinity. We have about 500 megawatt of hydropower, which is sort of lost might. But also windmill parks and additional windmill parks coming now. In addition to that, we have the national grid going outside our facility, which is also mainly the windmills and hydropower from north of our location.
But, for us, renewable power is one part of sustainability. The other part is that we have short travel power. Now if you transport power on the grid from A to B, you lose power in the grid. So transmission loss at the minimum is important and that we have.
You also need to use little power, meaning that many datacenters use too much power on cooling. We use very little power usage effectiveness, PUE. We have one of the leading PUEs in the world, so meaning that we use renewable power, we use little of it and it's short transported. That's the power bit.
In addition, we reuse the mine, so that's circular economy. We are taking what used to be a mine and trans-form that into a datacenter. That means we use less materials. Also, building the datacenter because the raw building is already there. It means that there is low visual impact for all the neighbors and the sur-roundings, so you can barely see it.
We have no water usage. That's important in this measurement. Of course, all the certifications and Green Code of Conducts. We, as you said earlier, we are going to reuse the waste heat into a salmon hatchery. All in all, there are many other things, Chad. I don't want to go too detailed but, all in all, there is really no one that can compete with the full picture here.
Chad Watt: Let's go back to the development side. Two questions about how you got here and how you sustain this. What was the biggest barrier? What was the biggest problem you had to solve, or the biggest riddle, or challenge in front of you in getting this from concept to operation? Was it the power? Was it the water cy-cling?
Mats Andersson: The biggest challenge we had was to the cooling solution. We're going to transport vast amount of water from outside water fjord into our facility. Now, that is going to then meet in the heat exchangers and the closed fresh water circuit, transporting cold water in and heated water out. Now, this is fairly high engineer-ing, was very well done, but that was the biggest challenge. Everything else is just building a normal data-center in theory, also in practice, mainly.
Chad Watt: When I think about the nature of cloud is something that needs to be able to quickly scale up and scale down. You're working with renewable energies. How do you make that available at the instant?
How do you make sure your power can scale up to the capacity that one might need at one instant, and then back to just in time exactly what you need? Thinking about you need to be constantly always on, reli-able but also scalable, high and low, high and low. How do you do that in this context?
Mats Andersson: First of all, we need to be ready for high, right? We need to have infrastructure for the high, the peaks. What's good about our facility is, as I said to you earlier, is that we build modularly, so we add infrastructure only when we need it. But then we add it so that we can do the peaks, of course.
We're also located in there with the surplus power production, meaning that they cannot really transport all the power out. Consuming power is good for having datacenters in locations where you have a surplus power production is good, in general, good in all ways.
We have philosophy that we are building a datacenter where our clients reserve the peak power and, if they use less, some datacenters, they over lease power to their customers, meaning that you always take a chance on that not everyone is peaking at the same time. We don't do that.
We reserve power for our customers and that is how it works. Hopefully, if a customer decides to not use that much power going forward, we will have another customer moving in and wanting to take over what he didn't want to use anymore.
Chad Watt: Let's talk a little bit about security now. What is it about Lefdal that makes it more secure than a typical datacenter?
Mats Andersson: First of all, we're really deep inside a mountain. We're 700 meters inside the mountain with a spiral going into it, not a straight road, so that leaves you with one entrance. There is also an escape entrance, but that leaves you with a heavily guarded entrance. We have three gates to get into our underground city of data-centers. Each gate is guarded and is 24/7, and you have all the possible physical assessments on the out-side. Now, that's one thing.
The other part is that you're inside a mountain. You have a natural EMP protection. An EMP can come from either solar storms, or from a war scenario where you have EMP bombs where you fry entire datacenters, basically. That's a natural protection.
We also work with the Norwegian government. The first thing we did when we decided to build a datacen-ter, a future-proof datacenter, was that we wanted to build one of the most secure datacenters in the Nor-dics. Meaning we build it for the Norwegian public sector, defense, international companies with a high de-mand of security. Meaning that we have a dialogue day one with the security authorities in Norway where we, together, de-cide how the operational processes should be like. What do we do in the different processes to getting to a datacenter?
We didn't leave any drawings with the municipality, or any of the counties when we search or look for per-missions. We always did it by the book. We checked people that are visiting our datacenters with the Nor-wegian security police. We do a lot of things that I don't want to go into, but we really are looking at creat-ing one of the most secure datacenters in the world, basically.
Chad Watt: The datacenter still needs power, still needs connectivity. Do you need to have easy access as far as travel-ing into see your own little server rack?
Mats Andersson: Of course, you will always have customers and people working for customers that are what we call server huggers. You still have them. They're becoming less.
Chad Watt: Server huggers.
Mats Andersson: Yes.
Chad Watt: They're becoming less.
Mats Andersson: They're becoming less. People are going to the cloud. And you have hardware providers making Infrastruc-ture as a Service. You have companies moving up the stack, meaning they have less people actually working with the servers, so that's one thing.
But they will always be there, so we're not for everyone, obviously. But, from before, where you had a junc-tional power and network, you built a datacenter. Now there are so many added layers to where you want to put those.
We have customers in the Nordics, also from abroad, requiring having that as a checkoff. We need to reuse our waste heat, otherwise, they're not going to come to us independent of price or anything else. They're going to have a certain amount of security around this, which is two different layers.
There is a future-proofing of the sustainability perspective where you need to prove on certain aspects. Those are all new layers coming into the where do I place my datacenter? The Norwegian government is going really far now in implementing a set of guidelines, certification, and demands on crews to operate.
Where and why? Is it sustainable? Is it secure? Can we protect our own country with these datacenters or not? Who owns them? There's so many things going on that is bringing this fairly new industry into a more regulated, sustainable, secure, future-proof solution.
Chad Watt: Bringing green into your technologies is of growing importance to all enterprises. Is there a possibility that there could be a Lefdal 2.0 somewhere someday?
Mats Andersson: Yeah. I hope so, and I believe so. We were actually contacted by different projects around the world from Hong Kong, Israel, Turkey, Mexico. Different organizations, public sectors that wants to build datacenters either in mountain halls or in the ground, either due to the lack of space or because of security.
Now, we're not going to find the perfect fit like Lefdal, I think, in a long while with both the fjord nearby the power production and also the logistics that we have. But it's a perfect storm as well, to say.
But, I think that we will see lots of projects like this going forward, especially with the situation we have in the world now where we have wars coming up all of a sudden. We have interest conflict international. We need to secure our datacenters.
We see in Ukraine now that the first thing they do is try to take out the power grid and the transformers. Now, the last transformers that we built, we built inside the mountain. We added two 30 megawatts trans-formers last week, and we took extra capital cost to build them deep inside the mountain rather than having them outside on the ground.
Chad Watt: Thank you, Mats, for your time and your insights.
Mats Andersson: Thank you, Chad, for having me. It was a great pleasure. Thank you so much.
Chad Watt: This podcast is part of our collaboration with MIT Tech Review, in partnership with Infosys Cobalt. Visit our content hub at technologyreview.com to learn more about how businesses across the globe are moving from cloud chaos to cloud clarity.
Be sure to follow ahead in the cloud wherever you get your podcasts. You can find more details in our show notes and transcripts at infosys.com/iki in our podcast section. Thanks to our producers, Catherine Burdette, Christine Calhoun, and Yulia De Bari. Dode Bigley is our audio technician. I am Chad Watt with the Infosys Knowledge Institute signing off. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Mats Andersson
Mats Andersson joined Lefdal Mine Datacenter in 2012 as Chief Marketing Officer. He has an extensive background from the data center industry – both in marketing and product development. Before heading into the datacenter industry, Mats Andersson worked in the online gaming industry where he co-founded a Pan–European gaming company and headed up large international sales and marketing organizations. Mats Andersson holds a degree in Marketing from Norges Markedshøyskole.
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