Sam Enoka. Photo courtesy of Greensparc

In a leap across the digital divide, the Cordova Electric Cooperative (CEC) announced last week that it has launched a brand-new data center in conjunction with Greensparc, a cloud computing services provider. 

This spring, Greensparc installed this data center at the Humpback Creek Hydro Facility — infrastructure that is 100% renewable, as it is powered by the hydro plant.  

Last week, Greensparc’s CEO and its head of product conducted a site visit in Cordova to ensure everything was running smoothly. While currently in its testing phase, Sam Enoka, CEO and co-founder of Greensparc, said the data center is two to three weeks out from being commissioned as a commercial asset, and will be up and running before summer. 

“You now have a … toehold for those that want or desire to participate in the digital economy that we live in today,” Enoka said. “To have equal access to those kinds of opportunities that kids in Silicon Valley and Seattle have. We’ve learned through our travels that that is as important, or maybe more important, for the purposes of providing opportunity.”  

Clay Koplin, CEO of CEC, said that the new data center will allow local businesses to expand their services, healthcare and educational services to expand their technological resources, and allow for the possibility of Cordova students and workers to develop cloud computing skills. He described the potential of this collaboration as “transformational.” 

“Greensparc has elevated Cordova from a remote community at risk of being left behind by next-generation technologies to one that is leading at the intersection of sustainable energy, high-speed communications, and transformative cloud computing. Greensparc’s computing infrastructure is not an advancement; it is a transformation,” said Koplin. 

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CEC will be the first customer of the data center. Koplin said relying on local servers increases security, reliability, and self-sufficiency. 

Koplin said having CEC’s computing services on one local server is a game changer — instead of reaching out to servers in Atlanta, Virginia or Iowa, they now can reach out directly to Greensparc. The cloud refers to on-demand computing systems, particularly data storage and computing power.  

Koplin said one potential for these local servers is digital sovereignty for regional Tribes and villages like the Native Village of Eyak to host Native knowledge and language on servers on their traditional lands. 

Enoka said that Greensparc is looking forward to training and hiring local workers from the Cordova communities for this data center to create new employment opportunities and strengthen the local workforce. 

Greensparc is an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider, which means computing resources such as storage, network, servers, and virtualization are provided over the internet. 

Previously, CEC applications had to run on the nearest cloud hub, which was located over 1,200 miles away in Seattle. The new data center will allow for CEC and other Cordova entities to run specialized applications locally and host data in their own community. And it goes beyond Cordova — Enoka said that already they are thinking about how their servers can support businesses and entities in Valdez. 

Remote communities like Cordova tend to rely on data centers that are hundreds of miles away, which introduces the potential concern of service disruption due to bad weather and other environmental factors. More local data centers mean this is less of a concern. Koplin said Greensparc has given CEC and Cordova an opportunity to embrace the future. 

Typically, data centers take years and millions of dollars to become functional. However, according to Greensparc, their design implements the infrastructure with a smaller footprint, lower cost, and faster, while ensuring its resilience in the tough Alaskan conditions.  

In case of emergency, the data center will rely on a backup hydro system smaller than the current plant, Enoka explained. This backup system will charge a battery that can be used if the powerplant goes offline for any reason. 

Data centers are typically criticized for their detrimental environmental impact (due to the greenhouse gas emissions required to run them, and the consumption of gallons of water a day to cool the center). However, this new data center will be powered by — and cooled by — CEC’s existing hydro plant. Any excess heat coming off the system will be used to heat the facility, to further improve CEC’s energy efficiency. Koplin explained that CEC’s hydro plant already has gallons of cool water at their disposal to be incorporated into cooling the server infrastructure within the data center. 

“Edge communities such as Cordova are on the forefront of unprecedented ecological transitions, with far-reaching social and economic impacts for their residents,” said Tommy Sheridan, Associate Director of Alaska Blue Economy Center at The University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Greensparc’s innovative technology unlocks much potential for the development and diversification of Cordova’s blue economy in ways that can be learned from and duplicated elsewhere in coastal Alaska and beyond.” 

Enoka knows first-hand about the pain of being on the wrong side of the digital divide. He grew up in North Pole, and attended Ben Eielson Jr/Sr High School. He said he felt behind his classmates and friends culturally and socially due to lack of access to the same technologies. He went on to graduate from University of Alaska Fairbanks, and now is on the board of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) at UAF. 

Enoka and Koplin both hope this new data center can help Cordovans become more competitive in an increasingly technology-based economy. 

Enoka said that to Greensparc, bridging the digital divide requires going to the communities that need support and working with them by putting assets in these edge communities, and training and hiring staff to work with these assets.  

“Everywhere you go there are dire needs for technology,” Enoka said about how bridging the digital divide can also improve economic diversity. 

While still in the brainstorming phase for how this technology can be leveraged for organizations across Cordova, Enoka said they’re excited for the possibilities. He said Greensparc and CEC are “charting a course in uncharted territory, but we’re optimistic.”  

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