Analysis: When will we see wave powered underwater data centres – it can only be a matter of time and tide
Microsoft has dropped a data centre into the Pacific Ocean off California.
Water and servers don’t often go together but power saving is paramount for future data centres.
Finding an accurate figure for exactly how much of the world’s power is being drawn by data centres is difficult but figures range from 2% to 4% of global power generation.
On land that means finding saving energy on cooling by locating data centres in mild temperate climates such as Ireland or cold climates such as Finland as has been done by the large web scale operations such as Facebook Google and Microsoft. The physical infrastructure of data centres are the equivalent of factories for web companies and upon which these companies rely on entirely. Even in these climates these buildings must be cooled using large industrial plant of the type pictured above.
Whenever there is talk of using wave or tidal power – as there was in Scotland with the proposal for the world’s largest tidal power project in the Pentland Firth – the idea of data centre applications is never far behind. Feasibility studies were done, designs drafted and finance sought for a data centre which it was hoped would take many mega watts of the Pentland Firth tidal power station.
Microsoft as a whole and its data centre services division puts a huge amount of effort into R&D into low power and energy saving data centres. This R&D is not restricted to the efficient operation of the facility but covers everything from how the application and operating system software is written to ensure servers host applications at maximum operating efficiency to finding alternative fuels sources for power the data centres. A test facility was built in the US next to a waste treatment plant and drew its energy from degradation of biomass material
Placing data centres under the water close to cities may, on the surface, appear to be a solution to the cooling problems and lower the energy consumption but they too will have potential environmental impact which MS will be looking to address.
Google in Finland is using sea water to cool its two phase $350m data centre which operates on the site of an old paper mill at Hamina. Using existing infrastructure which has been modified design engineers DLB Associates found a way to cool the data centre using the cold water of the Baltic sea.
However, as founder and CEO of DLB Associates Don Beaty said, transferring heat into an Ocean is not to be done lightly and it had to be ensured that the temperature of the surrounding aquatic ecosystem was not affected.
The reality is with data generation increasing at today’s rates beyond petabytes and data processing needs booming into billions of IOs and information being pushed around the globe through high power switches and through fatter and fatter fibre pipes there is no alternative but to explore new ways to provide data centres.
We are a long way from finding a panacea to data centre energy issues.