Vivaldi browser’s latest features include “fast forward and rewind”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t be writing multiple stories about technical previews of a new browser, but Jon von Tetzchner’s new Vivaldi keeps coming up with surprises even before it hits the beta stage.

Vivaldi’s second technical preview, released Thursday, adds expected features such as bookmarks, but it also includes new ideas such as “fast forward and rewind”. The fast forward feature acts as a navigational aid for jumping to the most logical next page – the next search result or forum thread page, or the next photo in a gallery. Fast rewind takes you back to the first page you visited on the site you’re reading.

The Opera founder’s new power browser is also gaining features that could well endear it to various niches. For those on slow or costly connections, there’s control over whether pages should load images or not, or only show cached images. For those surfing without a mouse, there’s an experimental new spatial navigation feature for jumping around pages with minimal key presses.

Interestingly, even at this early stage Vivaldi seems to be gunning for those who want to browse using widely-overlooked languages, adding options for Galician, Armenian, Macedonian, Belarusian and (no surprise, given von Tezchner’s origins) Icelandic. The second technical preview also adds support for 64-bit Windows and 32-bit and 64-bit Linux (actually, the 32-bit Linux support appeared last month, but it wasn’t included in the first technical preview release as such).

The first technical preview had 400,000 downloads in a week; since then the rush slowed, as it had a total download tally around the 700,000 mark. But remember, this is still just a technical preview for testing purposes – it’s not even at the alpha stage yet, let alone beta. Von Tetzchner and his largely ex-Opera team are trying to differentiate Vivaldi from its stripped-down rivals as much as they can, and it’s interesting to observe how they’re doing so.

Icelanders approve their crowdsourced constitution

Iceland’s citizens were given a chance to help forge a new constitution for their country through Facebook and Twitter, so it’s not surprising that they backed the resulting draft. Now it’s over to the politicians.

Locating your data center off the beaten path

The question of where to build your data center has become increasingly complex as the power demands of data centers themselves have grown, making power the largest operational cost for data center operators after labor. Controlling power costs means building data centers in places with temperate climates, cheap power, and for the environmentally conscious, access to renewable energy.
With improvements in fiber optic networks and government investments in network infrastructure, many governments in unlikely places are angling for a piece of the growing data center market. This has been true domestically on a local level as North Carolina and Central Washington State, not exactly IT hubs, have taken the lead in data center build outs, owing to cheap, abundant power and tax incentives.
In the global environment, the question has always been how far afield can we go? The general rule of thumb has been that for every 100 miles of fiber cable that data has to travel, a millisecond (ms) of latency is added. Latency just refers to the time delay of data traveling across any system.
I caught up with Tate Cantrell, the CTO at Verne Global, a data center colocation business. Verne Global opted to locate its 200,000 square foot facility on 45 acres at an ex-NATO base in Keflavik, Iceland. The first question Cantrell gets from prospective customers is about volcanic activity in Iceland. But the second, more important question is about latency and the distance the data must travel to get from Iceland to its destination.
Verne Global is focused on the European market, and quotes latency times of about 20 ms to London, 25 ms to Amsterdam and 45 ms to New York. For comparison, 25 ms is about the latency you’d expect from the Midwest to either coast. Iceland is about 1200 miles from London, and the Icelandic government in cooperation with private companies has invested in fiber cabling such that there is now 28 terabits of physical capacity directed at Europe.
Beyond traversing the question of latency, the biggest issue comes down to power pricing, and that’s where Cantrell thinks Verne Global has an advantage. Power is abundant in Iceland, about 20 percent coming from geothermal and 80 percent coming from hydroelectric. It’s all renewable and it costs just below 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, on par with what cheap power in data center hubs like North Carolina and Oregon is going for. (Some estimates have low cost hydropower in Oregon as low as 3 cents and estimates in North Carolina can reach as low as 4 cents). But any way you slice it, these prices are much lower than paying for power in high cost Europe. (For more on issues related to data center locating and pricing, see the report “Locating data centers in an energy-constrained world” on GigaOM Pro.)
Perhaps as important is that Verne Global has 20 year pricing visibility due to locking in long term electricity pricing, which is typically easier to do when the source of power is renewable. The underlying resource (sun, wind, steam, hydro) in renewable energy is free, so utilities are able to offer long term pricing guarantees, which data center operators like as it frees them from potential pricing volatility related to natural gas and coal prices.
Competition is heating up for data center business and Iceland, where the government is trying to lure big IT companies, is not alone. Facebook headed to Sweden for its European data center build, partially because of an extremely reliable grid there, and Google is investing $265 million at a Finnish data center where it is using local seawater to cool its center.
Apple went to North Carolina for cheap power, only to later wind up building its own solar array and fuel cells in order to maintain a renewable energy source and keep some PR distance from the nuclear and coal that powers the grid there. Locating data centers in countries where the grid is powered by renewables solves the PR problem that arises from sourcing dirty power.
Verne Global has 100 megawatts of capacity it’s able to bring online at its Iceland data center, and currently has four European customers including DataPipe and CCP Games. The challenge remains to convince customers of the speed and reliability of the network. But with clean power at 4 cents a kilowatt-hour, IT decision makers have more reason to consider locations a bit off the beaten path.

Question of the week

Is latency a real concern for data center locating?

Today in Cloud

This week’s Weekly Update looks at recent attempts by UK universities to save money and pool resources by building themselves a private cloud. The Register reports news of a Further Education college (roughly equivalent to a community college in the U.S.) doing something rather different, and shifting a lot of their computing to Iceland’s Thor data center. In both cases, securing a direct connection to JANET (the UK education sector’s high speed network) has been key. For the university cloud, for example, it is a key aspect of their ability to offer prices far lower than the commercial competition can (currently) match. In both cases, the institutions concerned are taking a fresh look at the shape of the education sector’s computing requirements, leading to different but equally interesting experiments. Whether either or both gain significant traction remains to be seen.

‘Zero emissions’ wholesale data center coming to Iceland

Colt, the British data center specialist, is building what it and Verne Global call the world’s first “zero emissions” data center slated to come online in four months. Located on a NATO base in Iceland, it will run solely on geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Today in Cloud

The abundant geothermal energy that Iceland is using to power its new breed of data centers comes at a cost; the sub-surface activity that generates all that hot water also makes the area prone to volcanic eruptions. Grímsvötn erupted last month, bringing darkness to Rekjavik’s normally bright summer skies and causing some limited disruption to European air traffic. However, according to those behind the island’s Thor Data Center, it kept on operating as normal. They’ve even provided pictures of their air filters to demonstrate how little effect the volcano had on air near their facility.

Today in Cloud

Iceland’s Thor data center is to be home to a new supercomputer, serving the needs of researchers hundreds of miles away across the Atlantic in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Iceland’s data centers benefit from the country’s cool climate and abundant geothermal power, as well as high speed connectivity to both Europe and North America. Despite Iceland’s apparent benefits, customers have not been as quick to fill its data centers as many presumed they would. A high profile project such as this should help to put the island firmly on the map.

Icelandic MP Says It’s Our Duty to Fight For WikiLeaks

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of the Icelandic parliament and an early supporter of WikiLeaks, said that despite having had a falling out with leader Julian Assange, she is willing to “stand up and stick my neck out for him,” and believes everyone should support the organization.