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Volcanic Ash May Impact Iceland's Data Center Plans

The volcanic eruption in Iceland that's disrupting air travel in Europe and Scandinavia could also have undesirable effects on the country's efforts to court data center customers.

Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted for the first time in nearly 200 years on Monday, sending ash nearly 40,000 feet into the air and shutting down heavily traveled air routes in northern Europe and Scandinavia. The eruption triggered flooding and sporadic ash fall of up to three millimeters thick around the eruption site, according to a Thursday report from the Icelandic Government Information Center.

It's unclear if the ash fall is affecting Iceland's IT infrastructure, as Channelweb.com's attempts Thursday to contact Icelandic solution providers were unsuccessful. But according to one local news report, the ash fall is the largest Iceland has seen since an eruption in 1918, and scientists aren't ruling out the possibility that the volcano could keep erupting.

Data centers are constructed to withstand environmental extremes and natural disasters, but volcanic ash is known for its ability to wreak havoc on desktops, servers, and basically any type of IT infrastructure that has moving parts.

Volcanic ash also contains silica sand, an abrasive, conductive material that's capable of destroying circuit boards. With the weight and consistency of talcum powder, ash can easily slip through air conditioning systems, even with filters installed.

The volcanic eruption comes at a time when Iceland's data center building push is beginning to gain momentum. In January, Verne Global, a data center developer based in Keflavik, Iceland, and Washington, D.C ., inked a deal with Wellcome Trust, a global biomedical research firm, to build a 44 acre data center facility on the site of a former NATO Command Centre in Keflavik, Iceland.

Although Iceland's economy is still in turmoil after the collapse of its financial system, the country's Invest in Iceland Agency, has been aggressively trying to attract data center projects.

"Iceland is the only country in Western Europe that still has extensive, untapped resources of competitively priced hydroelectric power and geothermal energy. It is the only western country that produces all its electricity from emission-free, sustainable natural resources," according to the organization's Web site.

In March 2009, Alaska's Mount Redoubt, a 9,000-foot stratovolcano located about 110 miles southwest of Anchorage, erupted for the better part of a week, although favorable wind patterns prevented much of the ash from reaching the city and wreaking havoc on its IT infrastructure.

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