Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Recycled Batteries Helping General Motors Work Greener

The average battery powering a Chevy Volt has quite a bit of useful life remaining even after the car itself is no longer driven.  For obvious reasons, General Motors has been working on ways to recycle the old batteries.  One of the innovations that they have come up with is to combine the batteries with solar and wind systems for green energy production.  They have a working model demonstrating the concept at their proving grounds in Milford, Michigan in the United States.

General Motors is using five recycled Volt batteries mounted inside test racks and connected to a system utilising both wind turbines and a ground-based solar array.  The sustainable system can produce 76kW which is enough energy to power the proving grounds' data centre administration offices.  The batteries serve as a backup in the absence of both wind and sun.

General Motors' senior manager Pablo Valencia said the project was a ‘natural match’.  The company came up with the idea and then spent two years working on research at the US government's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  After numerous studies, the researchers determined that as much as 80% of the energy capacity remains in the Volt batteries even after these are no longer strong enough to be used in the cars.

According to US Department of Energy estimates, there could be as many as 1 million lithium-ion car batteries being manufactured annually by 2020.  It just makes sense to figure out how to get maximum benefit from them in order to reach sustainable energy goals and cut down the amount of waste we produce.  General Motors says their project at Milford is a step in the right direction.  Interestingly enough, the batteries being used at Milford are early development models.  Newer models could provide even better results when hooked to the right system.

Commercial Applications:

So where do General Motors go from here?  To start with, it is a bit deceptive to advertise that the recycled batteries power the Milford data centre.  They do not.  Nor are the solar arrays and wind turbines that the batteries are connected to.  Electricity generated by the system is powering the administrative building as well as the car park's lighting.  While this is certainly impressive, it is a fraction of the electricity needed to power the average data centre.

Using sustainable energy production to account for all of the power requirements of a data centre is possible with the technology we have today however there is a reason that data centres utilise generators with internal combustion engines for backup power.  Batteries are just not powerful enough to meet the power and cooling needs of a data centre housing everything from hosting companies to enterprise cloud computing environments.

General Motors’ project will serve as a prototype for commercial applications with low to medium power needs.  As it currently stands, it is impractical for heavy-duty applications such as data centres. Nevertheless, science will keep working on it, that's for sure.  In the meantime, those old car batteries can enjoy a second life as a battery backup for a renewable system.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Airbus Teams up with OneWeb for Satellite Constellation

Airbus may be known primarily as a global manufacturer of commercial aircraft, but that is not stopping the company from teaming up with a British partner to embark on an ambitious communications project designed to provide internet access to underserved countries.  Airbus officials recently revealed their plans at the Paris Airshow.

Airbus and communications partner OneWeb took the occasion of the annual aerospace exhibition to announce plans for a 900-spacecraft constellation that will include 600 satellites and hundreds of additional vehicles working with ground-based receivers to provide telephone and internet communications.  OneWeb will be the service provider to end-users while Airbus has described itself as the programme's 'industrial partner'.

As an industrial partner, it is expected that Airbus will foot the bill for most of the satellite construction throughout the project.  This could be a risky move on its part, given the amount of cash it will tie up in the constellation before it becomes operational years from now.  As for precedent, other companies have attempted to create data communications constellations in the past only to run out of money before realising a profit.  If Airbus and OneWeb are going to make the plan work, they will need a tremendous amount of funding and an equal amount of patience.

The Plan

A report from the BBC suggests that Airbus will begin building satellites for the constellation in France, via their Toulouse manufacturing plant.  Manufacturing will shift to the United States at some point.  While Airbus builds the satellites, there is speculation that the Virgin Group will be working on the rockets necessary to put the equipment into orbit.  Virgin is already in a good position to contribute in this way based on its commercial aerospace travel programme, however neither Virgin Group nor founder Richard Branson has officially commented on the project.

OneWeb founder Greg Wyler sees his company eventually providing 20 planes of satellites, in low orbit, transmitting signals between themselves and equipment on the ground.  This is not new territory for Wyler. He already has experience after establishing a 12-spacecraft constellation to provide telecommunications services and broadband internet.  His 03B network launched in 2013 with hundreds of millions of US dollars in committed funding.  He has since secured a total of $1.2 billion to complete construction and deployment of the network.

Both OneWeb and Airbus are confident that they can make their latest dream of a modern, space-age network a reality within a few years.  If they do, it will give new meaning to cloud computing.  However, if the venture fails, the companies risk losing billions that could bankrupt both.  We hope they will tread lightly in the early development stages of the project.

OneWeb is just the latest company striving to provide broadband internet access in developing countries.  Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have all been working on their projects for years.  The company that wins the race, if it is won at all, will be well positioned moving into the future.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

American Project Seeks to Combine Data Centre with Aquaculture

The average data centre is a power-consuming beast that produces a lot of waste heat through its daily operations. That heat can be harnessed and utilised for other purposes, as evidenced by a number of projects that have combined the data centre with commercial and residential space heating however a new American project aims to do something different.  The plan of project managers is to combine the data centre with aquaculture in a symbiotic relationship.

The Foundry Project intends to make use of an 8-acre brownfield site in Cleveland, Ohio in the States in order to build a complex that includes an underground data centre and a fish farm where Mediterranean sea bass could be produced in fairly large numbers.  Both entities would be independent from a business standpoint, but dependent upon one another for optimal functioning.

The data centre would obviously provide the heat needed to maintain the right water temperature for the fish farm.  The fish farm will provide a means of environmental cooling and capturing waste heat without the need for chiller towers on the data centre site.  The data centre saves money over the long term with reduced power consumption.

The power to make all of this work would be generated the data centre.  During the summer months, some of the extracted heat would be stored in geothermal storage tanks located underground; some would be used to power the heat capture and recycling processes.  During the winter months, the stored geothermal heat would supplement the heat capturing processes during even the coldest of months.  Most of the excess heat year-round would be directed toward keeping fish ponds warm.

Looking for Partners

Foundry Project officials say they are ready to begin the design and build phase as soon as they find partners willing to get on board.  They are particularly interested in a data centre design in which the architecture of the structure works in concert with the surrounding area.  Because the actual structure will be underground, the infrastructure necessary to make the design work could be a bit challenging.  They are confident the right partner can be found.

As for the fish farm, the type of aquaculture design the project requires is nothing new.  Aquaculture is already a robust industry in the United States at multiple levels.  It is simply a matter of adapting current best practice to the brownfield site and its eventual data centre.

There is a lot of excitement in Cleveland surrounding the Foundry Project and its technology goals.  Not only will the site be the first of its kind to combine the modern data centre with an entirely unrelated project, it should also lead to new ways of designing data centre facilities to make the best use of waste heat by locating underground.  Local officials are equally excited that the project will create jobs and spur development in a part of town that is economically depressed.  Lofty goals indeed, but goals Foundry Project leaders believe can be reached.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

New Enforcement Tactics Turning the Tide on Cybercrime

One hundred years from now, the history books may record the explosion of cybercrime as one of the most significant events of the early 21st century.  In its infancy, cybercrime has evolved so rapidly that law enforcement has struggled to keep up however the tide may be turning...  A recent report from the BBC highlights how law enforcement is utilising new tactics, based on infrastructure rather than people, to put a stop to the lawlessness.

Infrastructure is key to successful cyber-criminal activity.  According to experts, criminals would not have the capacity to wreak havoc without a network of hijacked computers they use to complete their work around the globe.  The problem faced by law enforcement is that traditional investigative and prosecutorial tools that work within the confines of a particular geopolitical territory do not work on an international scale.  There is too much bureaucracy and red tape involved to go after individual criminals so, instead, law enforcement is going after their tools.

The BBC reports on a number of raids and other enforcement efforts that have already proven fruitful.  One example was a cooperative effort in April among the UK's National Crime Agency, the FBI and Europol mounted against the Beebone botnet.  They successfully seized a group of domains being used by cyber criminals to run traffic through infected machines.  Without their domains, the criminals had no further control over their networking capabilities.

An essential component of the new infrastructure-based law enforcement in Europe is the EC's Advanced Cyber Defence Centre.  The centre consists of nine different call centres located throughout Europe – centres that receive information about compromised machines and networks from Internet service providers.  They then call the owners with information about cleaning and securing those machines and networks.

Making Cyber Crime Harder

Early indications suggest that the new tactics are successful in slowing down cyber criminals, if not putting them out of business altogether.  It is a matter of making cybercrime harder and, as a result, less profitable to engage in.  What remains to be seen now is whether focusing on infrastructure can be an effective long-term solution for fighting cybercrime.  It may turn out to be that way, but no one expects criminals to just lay down without a fight.

Just as the data centre adapts by developing better security protocols after a major attack, criminals develop new ways of getting around law enforcement efforts.  For every sinkhole or dustbin created by a cybercrime investigation unit, successful criminals will find a way to work around them.  It is a cat and mouse game that seemingly never ends.

The key for law enforcement is to work harder than ever to make cybercrime harder than ever.  This means constantly developing new strategies, constantly training & retraining cyber experts and unparalleled cooperation between international law enforcement agencies.  It would be a shame to turn the tide now, only to surrender ground back to the cyber criminals.