Monday, 29 April 2013

IBM Solar Project Could Mean Good Things for Data Centres

Last week IBM took advantage of the worldwide celebration of Earth Day to announce a new scientific collaboration they hope will produce a photovoltaic system that will, once and for all, establish solar power as a real, viable option for renewable energy.

According to reports, IBM's system will be able to capture solar rays and boost them 2,000 times in a package that is affordable and can be constructed with common materials. They also claim 80% of the sun's energy will be usable through their system.

The key to the project's success is the design of their prototype solar collector. The collector consists of a parabolic dish, hundreds of mirrors, photovoltaic chips, and a tracking system to keep the dish optimally aligned with the sun throughout the daylight hours. Boosting the energy by 2,000 times is made possible using a revolutionary liquid cooling system.

The cooling system is based on systems now being used for some of the world's fastest supercomputers. By utilising liquid cooling, the photovoltaic chips can maintain a constant temperature for peak operation throughout the day. Air-cooled systems just aren't capable of that kind of efficiency.

Funding for the project, known as the High Concentration Photovoltaic Thermal (HCPVT), is being provided by a grant from the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation. The £1.6 million grant has been awarded to scientists from IBM, Airlight Energy, and two schools who will all work in partnership to develop the system. If they are successful, the team will be able to produce tremendous amounts of power that some speculate could cost less than ten cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour.

What This Means for Data Centres

Within the current environment, one of the biggest challenges for data centre companies is to design and build new facilities able to take advantage of renewable power sources. Yet because of the tremendous amounts of energy such facilities consume, renewable energy sources can be costly and limited in availability. Success by the IBM team could change that drastically.

Imagine a new data centre being constructed in an area with abundant sunshine and access to the local power grid. Placing these new advanced solar collectors on site could potentially provide all of the power and cooling needs while also sending the excess energy back into the grid. With some energy storage units on site, the data centre may never need to tap into external power sources.

If the heat generated by the data centre could also be harnessed and turned into energy, the entire site would be that much more efficient. This could be just what the global community needs as we continue to race headlong into a world where everyone is interconnected.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the thing to remember about solar energy is that it is tremendously inefficient. It will take some time for IBM and its team to work out all of the kinks necessary to produce a commercially viable product. In the meantime, we will keep working with the energy sources we have.

Monday, 22 April 2013

U.S. at it Again with CISPA

Last summer the Internet world watched closely to see what the U.S. government would do regarding its controversial Cybersecurity Act. After being overwhelmed with criticism and opposition, American politicians dropped support for the bill and let it fade off into the distance. Now they're at it again with a new bill known as CISPA.

CISPA is an acronym that stands for the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act. It is a new piece of legislation ostensibly designed to combat cyber-attacks mounted against the U.S. both domestically and internationally. The legislation's greatest power comes by way of expanded authority to access web data from hosting companies and ISPs.

The bill was defeated once before, after members of the U.S. Senate voiced concerns about individual privacy. A second version of the legislation was recently passed by the House with added amendments to answer those concerns. The Senate could still reject this latest overture; something that's likely, thanks to a threat by the Obama administration to veto the legislation if it passes in its current state.

The legislation has the support of important technology organisations including CITA and TechNet. Those lined up against it include Facebook, Reddit, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It seems there will be no shortage of debate, just as we saw with the Cybersecurity act last year.

The authors of the bill cite the recent attacks from known threats as the main impetus for the bill. China was singled out buy one politician who said, "If you want to take a shot across China's bow, this is the answer." Those opposed say the legislation will do nothing to stop cyber-attacks but will decrease the privacy and security of every Internet user.

Questions of Jurisdiction

For Internet-based companies and governments outside the U.S. the most pressing question regarding CISPA is one of jurisdiction. During the debate over the Cybersecurity Act, U.S. courts asserted the American belief that they have jurisdiction over any computer system or user tied to information flowing in or out of the country. Whether or not they will assert the same thing with CISPA remains to be seen. If they do, we can expect more international organizations to come out against the bill.

The other concern is the potential trouble for data centres and hosting companies in the U.S. They would have to come up with comprehensive policies covering all phases of data management and protection. Data centre training would also be required in order to bring all employees up to speed as to how to handle sensitive information and requests from government entities.

In short, CISPA is another bill with shortcomings that will likely far outweigh any perceived benefit. It appears as nothing more than just a short-sighted effort among a group of American politicians to beef up Internet security. A better approach might be to encourage technology companies to continue security innovations while governments focus on aggressively prosecuting attackers using existing laws.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Spain Attempts to Bolster Anti-Piracy Laws

Last year officials in Spain were delighted to learn their country had been taken off the U.S. watch list of nations that do not do enough to fight online piracy. However, the elation might be short-lived. Spain has received word that they stand a real chance of being put back on the list when the revised copy becomes available.

Being included means trade sanctions and other political muscle flexing designed to get those countries on the list to adopt more stringent anti-piracy laws. In order to avoid being indicted, the Spanish government has done just that. New anti-piracy legislation has been introduced and is in the first stage of public feedback.

If the draft does indeed become law, a couple of significant changes will immediately be felt in Spain. First, prosecutors will be able to go after websites that provide links to pirates even if they are not hosting pirated content themselves. Currently only content hosters are subject to prosecution in Spain.

The second important change allows the government to go after companies willing to advertise on the websites of copyright violators. Such advertisers would be subject to fines. It is likely some changes will be made to the draft legislation before it is finally approved and made law.

The Spanish government wants desperately to remain off a watch list as it seeks to strengthen its economy and the online sector. If they make the list again, they'll be joining countries like Russia, Ukraine, China, and India. That's certainly not good company to be in, either politically or economically. Tech companies investing in Internet-based businesses will avoid blacklisted countries at all costs for fear of being caught up in the mess themselves.

Laws Largely Ineffective

Spain is to be commended for seeking to strengthen its anti-piracy laws. However, that commendation has nothing to do with the effectiveness of such laws. Wherever governments try to control online piracy through this type of legislation, the efforts fail miserably. Why? Because of the enforcement question.

No amount of anti-piracy laws, regardless of their strength and toughness, will do any good to stop the practice unless they are enforced vociferously and without compromise. Pirates need to understand they will pay severely if they are caught; severely enough to cause them to question whether or not the risk is worth it.

As for web hosting and colocation companies, they could help by getting tougher with pirates who attempt to use their services. As soon as a pirate is identified, he or she needs to be booted off and not allowed back on. Turning a blind eye just to sell a few more pounds of cloud or managed services only helps propagate the issue.

Spanish Education and Culture Minister Jose Ignacio Wert told Reuters that the legislative action "should satisfy those who are worried about Spain's insufficient level of protection for intellectual property."

That may be so however the real question is whether passage of the legislation will have any real effect on the problem of online piracy.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Cooling Key for Modular Data Centres

Probably the most significant design discussion point when considering a modular data centre is cooling. Most current solutions typically utilise fresh air cooling technology, which mostly achieve the level of efficiency owners and operators are looking for.

However, as well as introducing a number of fundamental design considerations they can also significantly impact on uptime and create unnecessary risk. This is because legacy designs for chilled water systems especially those that have higher levels of availability have been expensive and difficult to design into modular solutions, but this is where we are now seeing the marketplace going.

Increasingly, we are seeing the need for modular and standardised data centre cooling solutions that do not use direct fresh air. This is why we have developed Ecofris which sits at the centre of our modular blueprint designs, providing a flexible building independent approach that can be tailored for specific business requirements.

This approach to the design delivers high levels of performance with rack power densities up to and in some cases in excess of 30kW per rack position as well as high levels of resilience and scalability.

Posted by Matt Dyke, Keysource

Monday, 15 April 2013

Free Power & Cooling for Data Centres on the Horizon?

Every year the Uptime Institute honours individual technology organisations for their creative ideas through the Green Enterprise IT Awards. This year's winner, TeraCool, has proposed a way of powering Europe's data centres at virtually no cost. If the company is successful in convincing others, it could change the landscape of the data centre industry entirely.

The idea is to locate data centres within close proximity to liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities. Those facilities could provide data centres with all the energy needed for power and cooling, without any additional expenditure on the part of either one. It all comes down to the process in which liquid natural gas is used.

When LNG arrives at a plant, it is stored in a large tank until it is needed. However, in its liquid form it offers no benefit. In order to make it usable the LNG facility changes it from a liquid back into a gas through the process of vaporization. That process releases energy stored in the liquid gas; energy that is currently allowed to simply escape unused.

By harnessing that energy, data centres could make use of it to power their operations. Not only is it efficient and cost-effective, it can also be done at very low temperatures. It seems an ideal way to harness the unused energy generated every day by the LNG industry.

According to TeraCool officials, a handful of LNG plants have already expressed interest in exploring the idea further. Officials further claim that one of the plants they looked at, a 22-tank operation in South Korea, is capable of producing up to 350 MW of energy. Even the largest data centres in the world only have need of about 30 MW or so for cooling.

The biggest downside to the idea is that the data centres would only be able to make use of the energy if it is supplied at a steady rate. Because the typical LNG plant vaporises gas only as needed, providing a consistent flow of usable energy could be a challenge. Perhaps a storage method could be worked out to solve that problem.

Making it Happen

Making this idea happen is something TeraCool is serious about. We hope they succeed. It would be a great day in data centre technology if the potential difficulties can be overcome in a way that benefits both our industry and the LNG industry. Green is the way we're going; the TeraCool proposal is just the next cog in the wheel.

In other green energy news, the London Array just completed the construction phase of their project in the Thames estuary. The project is yet another example of how green energy has quickly gaining ground in Europe. It's just what the data centre and IT sectors need right now, especially at a time when they are pushing all of their financial resources into optical fibre networks. If the cost of energy can be reduced significantly, it will certainly help with the technology push going forward.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

London Array Construction Phase Completed

At the flip of a switch, the final piece of the London Array construction phase was recently completed; with little fanfare, we might add. Yet the importance of the event is not lost on proponents of renewable energy. The fact that this milestone has been reached at all is fairly impressive, given all the challenges of constructing the largest offshore wind farm in the world.

Construction on the 175-turbine farm began more than two years ago when the first foundation was laid in March 2011. London Array project director Richard Rigg reminisced about the humble beginnings of the project during his official remarks regarding the completion of the construction phase. He went on to talk about the complex nature of the operation and the accomplishment of completing construction, on schedule, despite often-difficult weather conditions.

The London Array project is a joint project owned in a partnership between Dong Energy, EON, and Masdar. All three hope to take the lessons learned over the last two years and apply them to future wind farm projects. They will be focusing on reducing the cost of offshore wind farms in order to make them more attractive as a renewable energy source.

According to RenewableUK chief executive Maria McCaffrey, completion of the London Array means generation of clean, green electricity for UK homes and businesses. Exactly how much energy will be generated consistently remains to be seen. However, McCaffrey hopes the success of the project will encourage the government to continue supporting wind farms and other renewables as they work out the details of the pending Energy Bill.

In order to design and build future projects power companies will need as much support as they can get. So far, renewables have not proven to be the profit generating businesses their fossil fuel counterparts are. Nevertheless, perhaps the London Array is the first step toward changing that.

What It Means to Data Centre Industry

The completion of the London Array is mostly good news for the data centre industry inasmuch as green power and cooling is one of the highest priorities now driving the industry forward. Since last year, we have seen a number of new data centre projects taking advantage of creative ways to go green.

With an output of just 630MW, the Thames estuary project is by no means capable of supporting the industry on a large scale. However, for every new project that comes online data centres will have more opportunities to eschew fossil fuels and brown energy in favour of green energy.

As two of the most forward-thinking industries of the day, both the data centre and renewable energy sectors need to work together to achieve better, cheaper results. Computer and data systems technologies are not likely to require less energy in the future, and renewable energy technologies are not likely to remain static. If both industries combined their collective efforts, the rest of the world might be surprised at what they can accomplish.