Thursday, 26 March 2015

Costa Rica Demonstrates Potential of Renewable Energy

The holy grail of renewable energy research is proving that significant energy needs can be met exclusively through renewable sources for extended amounts of time.  The Central American nation of Costa Rica has indeed gone a long way in that endeavour, having used no fossil fuels for electrical generation since December 2014.

News reports say Costa Rica has been using 100% renewable energy thanks to unusually heavy rainfall since the start of the year.  As of March 22, four hydroelectric plants had powered the entire nation for 75 straight days.  Those numbers come from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute.

A hydroelectric plant generates power by utilising running water to move turbines that create electricity.  It is a simple concept that has been in use for decades. Costa Rica is a perfect environment for hydroelectric because of its extremely rugged and mountainous terrain.  Water flowing from the mountains provides a natural source of turbine-driving energy as it flows downhill.

Even before the heavy rains of 2015, Costa Rica had been making great strides in renewable energy production.  In 2014, some 80% of the nation's energy was produced using hydroelectric means.  An additional 10% came from geothermal applications.  According to the numbers, 94% of all energy consumed in Costa Rica is produced using renewable strategies.

Government leaders and energy producers are thrilled with the success of hydroelectric in their country, but they are not resting on it.  Hundreds of millions of pounds were committed to geothermal development last year, with significant consideration being given to using the nation's volcanic geology to its advantage.  That's good, say experts, because changes in rainfall can drastically affect hydroelectric power production and management.  Costa Rica intends to design and build more geothermal power plants that will produce energy even in seasons of inadequate rainfall.

Using What Is Naturally Available

The exciting thing about what is happening in Costa Rica is that they are utilising what is naturally available.  In Central America, rain falls in abundance during several periods throughout the year so it makes sense to develop renewable energy strategies that take advantage of that.  In the same vein, establishing large wind farms off the English and Scottish coasts to harness the wind which is in plentiful supply year-round is immensely practical.

Whether we are discussing renewable energy for the data centre or an entire nation of nearly 5 million people, the idea is to put into play what nature naturally provides for the purposes of power generation.  When we do that, we are reducing dependence on fossil fuels and cutting emissions at the same time.

The world could learn an example from Costa Rica and its commitment to renewable energy.  Not only is it aggressively developing geothermal and hydroelectric solutions, but the country has also chosen not to tap into oil supplies known to be in the Caribbean region.  Costa Rica is providing an excellent model for responsible and sustainable energy that will lead the world into the future.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Drive Is On For Data Centre Consolidation

A recent survey among UK and European IT managers has revealed several interesting things that give us a good idea of where data centres are heading this year and next.  At the top of the list of planned expenditures for 2015 are data centre consolidations and infrastructure upgrades.  The cloud has a lot to do with it.

The survey showed that 33% of the 590 European respondents listed data centre consolidation among the top three investment priorities for 2015.  Among UK respondents, the number was about 29%.  Infrastructure upgrades were mentioned as important by 38% of the Europeans and 28% of the UK IT managers.  Putting both together paints a very intriguing picture worth delving into.

Digital Reality vice president Ricky Cooper told Computer Weekly that data centre consolidation is becoming a very popular choice for managing data across multiple environments.  He explained that leaving data distributed among multiple solutions in different locations inevitably leads to less productivity and slower speeds. Conversely, consolidating data at a single data centre boosts productivity, makes management more efficient and increases speed.

It is the position of some industry experts that 2015 will be the year that enterprise clients operating their data centres in multiple locations will seriously consider consolidating all of their data and IT services at a data centre provided by a third-party vendor.  Others may choose a hybrid solution that involves the combination of a paid service provider and limited use of their data centres.  In either case, accommodating the influx of potential new customers will require data centre owners to address infrastructure upgrades. 

Data centre owners know that modern business networking requires ever larger and more powerful servers capable of seamless virtualisation and on-demand scaling.  They also know that new enterprise customers will want the option to move data freely from one environment to the next without restriction.  All of this will require significant investment in infrastructure.

The Cloud Matures

We can thank the maturity of the cloud for leading us to a place at which we are now seriously considering data centre consolidation.  Before the cloud became the standard for enterprise networking in Europe, companies were happy to set up and maintain their data centres in order to avoid sharing resources however, with the introduction of the cloud came the idea of virtual environments enabling shared resources at a single facility.  Enterprise customers are now starting to come to the realisation that they no longer need to maintain their data centres in order to remain viable.

Data centre operators will be targeting infrastructure upgrades in 2015 in anticipation of the day when enterprise customers realise they will do better by consolidating their data in a single facility.  Should that begin happening this year, and many expect it will, the drive for data centre consolidation will be shifted into high gear.  Hopefully, we have the floor space and storage capacity to pull it all off without a hitch.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Is Regulating Big Data Possible?

The era of Big Data officially began about ten years ago, when the corporate internet got it in their heads that data could be harvested and later mined for the purposes of business growth and expansion.  They realised that, although they did not know how to use all of the data available, one day they would, thereby creating the need to start collecting as much data on internet users as possible.  Now, some are calling on the world's biggest tech companies to be regulated in the same way that utilities are.

OZON Group’s CEO Maelle Gavet is among those who believe that companies such as Facebook and Google cannot be trusted to self-regulate in terms of protecting consumer privacy or guarding against data breaches.  She believes that it is time for regulators to step in and put some buffer between tech companies and the customers they serve.  The dichotomy for Gavet - and those who share her opinion - is one of how much regulation is appropriate.  It is a legitimate dichotomy.

Gavet explains in a Wired Magazine article that internet technology has certainly made the world a better place, in the same way that energy companies and telecoms have.  She also explained that she is not in favour of politicians who go so overboard in regulation as to stifle progress and innovation.  At the same time, she believes that corporate self-regulation is not reality.  So, where to draw the line?

It is clear that there will always be some amount of tension between commercial and social responsibilities.  A company such as Facebook does owe its shareholders a fiduciary responsibility to make them money.  By the same token, they have an equal responsibility to not abuse the customers who use their product.  Harvesting, mining and selling data seems to go well beyond commercial responsibility and into the area of customer abuse.

Any regulations that are put in place, such as the European Union's recent right to be forgotten law, have to find the delicate balance between business freedom and consumer rights.  Regulations have to consider everything from Big Data training to a corporate infrastructure always seeking to maximise returns.  Perhaps one of the reasons the world has been so slow to regulate is the fact that no one quite knows how to do it yet.

Consumers vs Politics

In her closing paragraph, Gavet says, “we need to find a balance between companies, governments and individuals about data and the right to privacy.”  Unfortunately, just as she maintains that self-regulation among tech companies is a fantasy, so is protecting the rights of individuals within the arena of government.  Government, by definition, takes away rights rather than protecting them.

In a world of cloud computing and superfast broadband connections, any talk of regulating tech companies must not start with the idea of balance.  Indeed, the scales should be tipped demonstrably in favour of individual privacy and security.  The needs of government and big business must, by necessity, not outweigh those of consumers.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Experts Claim More STEM Training Required for Secure Future

Statistics from a recent NEF:  The Innovation Institute study suggest that only 16% of UK companies requiring workers with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) training are able to meet their hiring goals.  An additional 32% said that hiring qualified workers is challenging.  With the numbers such as they are, it is no wonder experts are calling on the UK to do more to increase STEM training to secure the technology of the future.

A recent example of this call came by way of speakers addressing the Westminster Higher Education Forum, among whom was former conservative MP Peter Luff.  Mr Luff opened the forum with a speech in which he said, “we need more role models and we all need to work harder to ensure universities produce the graduates we need.”

Listening to all of the speakers was an exercise in learning some of the ins and outs of the technology industry.  Between cloud computing, fibre optics and data centre operations, each seminar attendee was reminded of the skills gap that currently exists throughout the sector.  Speaker after speaker made the case that more trained workers are going to be necessary in the future if we expect to maintain our place as Europe's technology leader.

Emerging Industries:

Technology is a very broad-based category of industry.  So, what specific industries within this category are expected to require more workers in the coming years?  Seminar attendees spoke of things such as the internet of things, mobile communications, cloud technology and 3D printing. Each of these industries requires workers with STEM training and at least some level of basic skills competence.

According to NEF CEO Sa’ad Medhat, some of the responsibility for meeting STEM goals lies with the technology companies who will employ university graduates.  He says companies need to do a better job of assessing current needs and possible trends in order to forecast what skills will be needed in the near and distant future.  Businesses can then work with universities to ensure students are getting the right kind of training.

Proceed with Caution:

We assume that most of what was presented at the Westminster Higher Education Forum is probably spot on however, we cannot help but think that the industry needs to proceed with caution.  Whether you are talking about data centre jobs or building telecom infrastructure, there is no denying that more workers are needed to fill those jobs.  However, we do not want to find ourselves in a position of pushing so many young people into STEM work that we do not have enough entering other career choices.

As just one example, the haulage and transport industries are also desperate for workers right now yet professional driving has been portrayed as a career of last resort for decades, creating many of the problems the industry is now trying to work its way through.  STEM training is important for some students, but not for all. We need to be careful not to make STEM a priority to the detriment of other industries.