As data centre energy comes under pressure, putting your data on ice could be a good option, says Peter Judge
Energy use in data centres is a serious issue. It’s thought that their energy demands account for around 1.5 percent of the world’s electricity, a figure that’s set to increase and one that a lot of people are looking to reign in.
Today we heard that the EU’s Cool Em All project intends to create better ways to reduce the energy in data centres, which appears to have some overlap with Facebook’s Open Compute project as both aim to produce open sourced “best practice” hardware designs. So we assume that the EU effort will communicate and share with the Facebook-backed one, as well as other existing movements such as the Green Grid and the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres.
A global pattern emerging?
But alongside patterns in how to build data centres, we could be seeing a global pattern emerging in where to put them.
After Facebook decided to build its European data centre in Lulea, Sweden, a group of ten Swedish regions has announced they want to entice more data centres and cloud providers into the country. They are emphasising the country’s excellent infrastructure, including the world’s second cheapest high-speed broadband and the cheapest dark fibre.
IBM and AST announced this week that they have completed a container park in Denmark, intended for the Danish financial industry, and last week, we heard about Iceland’s bid to host more data, based on the country’s surplus of electricity generated from renewable sources. The pitch is a good one but it has to overcome, among other things, the memory of the Icelandic banking crisis.
There’s one thing these three countries have in common (besides a shared history of Viking culture) – they are all cold. It has been known for a long time that data centres can work much more efficiently in a cold environment as the servers can be cooled simply by circulating air at the outside temperature.
If the air is cold enough, chillers can be switched off and efficiency goes up as virtually all the electricity used is directed to the servers. If the climate is cold enough all year round (as it is in large parts of these three countries), then the data centre owner can save on capital costs by not installing chillers at all.
Assuming electricity and networks are provided, then could we move all our data processing to cold climates? It is easy to find data and services that can’t be moved for reasons of regulation or politics, but the trend is definitely towards more service provision which is more mobile – in the sense that it can be located anywhere.
All these countries are making a pitch to get data from other countries. Big players like Facebook with its own data centre make a good start, but the real volume will come when more small players move into shared space, or onto cloud providers like Amazon.
As trust issues are sorted and international cloud practices are defined, it begins to look like a sensible move to put your data somewhere chilly.