Nfld. & Labrador

Data centres are a boon to Labrador, not a drain, says CEO

The mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is wrong to call his data centre a drain on the town, says Great North Data CEO James Goodwin.

Great North Data's James Goodwin plans to hire 10-20 new staffers in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this summer

Bitcoin mining equipment is shown in this image posted on the Great North Data website. (www.greatnorthdata.com)

The mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is wrong to call his data centre a drain on the town, says Great North Data CEO James Goodwin.

"I was a little surprised and a bit taken aback," Goodwin said about the comments Wally Andersen made to CBC News last week, saying the two data centres in his town are overtaxing the local electrical grid. 

"We certainly do provide a lot to the communities we work in."

Great North Data operates a data centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and another in Labrador West, where their computers perform a variety of functions including mining cryptocurrency and running artificial intelligence algorithms for their clients.

Their operation in Happy Valley-Goose Bay started with half a megawatt of power in 2014, and now runs at between 1.5 to two megawatts, Goodwin said.

And while the total number of jobs may be small so far, he said the jobs his company provides are well-paying, with the average salary being about $75,000.

Summer expansions planned

Great North Data currently has 24 employees around the province, Goodwin said, with about five of them in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

It's a number he has trouble being exact on, because they are quickly staffing — in fact they plan to add 10 to 20 more employees in that town in the next few months.

Great North Data CEO James Goodwin plans to hire new employees in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the upcoming months. (Submitted)

"My number one need in Labrador these days is techs. I need people who are really good with computers. They may not necessarily come with all the skills we need, but people who are teachable," Goodwin said.

A computer science or coding background is an obvious plus, but he said he's also hired people with other technical backgrounds, like small appliance repair or electrical.

"We usually say, if you can build your own computer you've got the skills we need and we can teach you the rest."

But Great North Data's growth is not limited to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The company is expanding their head office and looking for positions there, including an HR manager. There are also plans to expand into software, which will require two or three programmers who can work on automation.

Labrador's competitive advantages

It's not by accident that these data centres are located in Labrador. The Big Land offers two clear advantages for these facilities: the power rates are low, and so are the temperatures.

The low power rates in Labrador provide a competitive advantage over more expensive markets, Goodwin said, and he'd be willing to take and use as much power as can be provided.

Great North Data operates data centres in Labrador City (pictured here) and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"I'll take it all. Quite honestly, we are over-subscribed on space, many many many times over," he said.

"We'd love to get up to 10 megawatts in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and get a real sizeable operation going this year."

But Labrador's cool climate is also an advantage, because it doesn't require expensive cooling for the machines.

"A traditional data centre in, say, Montreal or Toronto will run at what they say is 60 or 70 per cent efficiency, which means that only about 60 or 70 per cent of the power actually goes to computer and the rest goes to other stuff, everything from lights to especially air conditioning and cooling," said Goodwin.

"One of the advantages in Labrador is you do not need any air conditioning. You just need to run fans."

It's a competitive advantage the big guns in tech also use. Google and Microsoft have data centres in Finland, and Facebook has one in northern Sweden. Iceland has experienced a tech boom, thanks to its cold climate and inexpensive geothermal power.

Goodwin says that misconceptions about less-established data centres, run as fly-by-night operations, or misunderstandings about what the centres actually do may have led to some of the negativity about his business.

But Great North Data offers a variety of services, not only cryptocurrency mining, and is accountable to both its staffers and its clients, he said, and the jobs he hopes to hire for over the summer are full-time positions with good pay.

"I feel it's maybe unfair that we're being tarred with the same brush, but maybe that's my fault for not telling people what we're up to."

With files from Labrador Morning