Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Apple: 93% of Company Facilities Run on Renewable Energy

US-based Apple Inc. has long maintained its intentions to eventually power all of its facilities with renewable energy. A recent announcement made at the company's 'Loop You In' event demonstrates they are closer to that goal than ever before. According to Apple officials, 93% of the company’s facilities now run on renewables.

Apple has been aggressively pursuing a renewable-only strategy since 2014. Should it reach its goal - and there is no reason it should not - every Apple retail store, manufacturing facility and data centre will be a green energy facility with no use for fossil fuels or other traditional energy sources.

“The transition to a new green economy requires innovation, ambition and purpose,” CEO Tim Cook said in an official statement. “We believe passionately in leaving the world better than we found it and hope that many other suppliers, partners and other companies join us in this important effort.”

Lisa Jackson, Apple Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, made the announcement at the company's recent event. She echoed Cook in outlining the company's commitment to green energy in the future. Jackson says the company estimates that its efforts toward renewable energies will result in 20 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases being kept out of the environment.

Going Beyond Green Energy

We would expect a company like Apple to investigate renewable energy options for new manufacturing and data centre infrastructure. If nothing else, renewables offer an opportunity to disconnect from fossil fuels and perhaps the entire grid in the future however Apple is going above and beyond just green energy. Along with the announcement about its renewable energy goals, the company also outlined a new recycling programme based on a robot named Liam.

Liam was developed as a means of making the recycling of old iPhones more efficient. Apple determined that automation was the key, designing a robot that can disassemble phones at a rate of 1.2 million every year. Those components that can be recycled and reclaimed are harnessed for such purposes while the little that remains of a disassembled phone that is of no use is discarded.

Applying automation to recycling now makes breaking down old iPhones for reclamation profitable rather than just a good thing to do for the environment. Once again, Apple's innovation will set the standard that motivates other equipment manufacturers to do likewise.

The Apple Data Centre

Apple says that it has reached the goal of 100% renewable energy use in 23 of the countries where it operates. Now the company is setting its sights on data centre facilities that have not yet been converted. The power and cooling needs of data centres are responsible for an increasing share of energy consumption around the world. Shifting to a green energy strategy will ease the burden facilities place on the grid while also paving the way for future renewable energy development.

Whether you like Apple products or not, you cannot argue with the company’s commitment to renewable energy. No other company has achieved the same results… yet!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Cooling and Humidity Conundrum for Data Centres

Every time a new data centre is built, architectural and design teams work together to design and build a structure that can safely house hundreds of hard drives and peripheral equipment in an environment that can be kept cool and clean. It has long been understood that heat and data centre equipment do not play well together. However, research emerging from the States indicates that humidity is another concern that, until now, we have not been paying attention to.

We do know that exposing hard drives and other data centre equipment to high heat is not good. Heat causes electronic components to break down more quickly than they otherwise would. Therefore, cooling is an essential part of every new data centre design. In fact, power and cooling needs may get more attention than anything else in the design phase of a new facility.

As designers are looking for ways to use less power by utilising outdoor air for cooling purposes, they now have to worry about humidity as well. According to a joint research project involving a data centre owner, Microsoft and Rutgers University, humidity is even more dangerous to hard drive disks than temperature. They are warning data centre designers to be very careful about the amount of humidity they allow into facilities by way of outside air.

What They Discovered

The researchers who looked into free cooling were concerned that not enough data existed to explain the relationship between humidity and equipment failure. They wanted to know exactly how environmental conditions impact equipment reliability and performance. So they set out to collect data from nine different data centres located around the world over a four-year span.

Interestingly, they discovered that those data centres using free cooling were more likely to experience performance degradation and outright equipment failure than those that used more traditional power and cooling set-ups. Furthermore, the data indicated that relative humidity was the most important issue. Disk failures increased in volume commensurate with high relative humidity.

"Based on our experience and observations, we conclude that high relative humidity degrades reliability significantly, having a much more substantial impact than temperature or temperature variation,” the researchers wrote in their report. “Thus, the design of free cooled data centres and their servers must consider the relative humidity to which components are exposed as a first-class issue."

Implications for Green Energy

On the one hand, the analysis of data centre humidity is very important to ensure existing and future facilities are able to properly care for their equipment. On the other hand, the report does have implications for the future of green energy. Because green energy is largely based on what nature provides, environmental factors have to be considered. Green technologies must make accommodations for relative humidity in ways that provide proper cooling without allowing too much moisture into the data centre facility. We feel sure that designers will find a sensible way forward; it is just a matter of what that way will be.



Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Fair Warning: Are You Ready to Be Hacked?

As the whole world watches to see whether the US government will prevail in its fight to force Apple to hack locked phones, the UK is on the verge of passing unprecedented legislation that would force almost every company or organisation involved in any form of digital data communications to hack their customers at the whim of government investigators. As Computer Weekly so aptly put it, the legislation will criminalise the refusal to ‘hack on demand’.

Investigative reporter Duncan Campbell reveals that British MPs were given a 1,200-page document with details of the legislation last November (2015); they were expected to read and understand it within two weeks. The goal of those who created the legislation is to ram it through by the end of this year. If they are successful, and the legislation remains unaltered, the results will make what the US National Security Agency did in the pre-Snowden area look pedestrian.

The details of the legislation are too numerous to list here, but in summary, it will require the following:

·        Businesses and IT professionals will be required to hack both domestic and overseas customers on any order issued by the Home Office.
·        Businesses and individuals will be compelled, by order of the government, to conduct equipment interference that will enable government interception of data communications.
·        Businesses and individuals will be compelled, by order of the government, to alter software or hardware systems to allow government hacking.
·        Businesses and other organisations will be required, on government order, to use malware and other deceptive tactics against their own customers to ensure government access to data and data communications.

This is no minor piece of legislation with only symbolism attached. If Campbell's review is accurate, privacy in the digital world will instantly become non-existent. The government will be able to force software developers, hardware manufacturers, and any organisations involved in data transfer to become participants in the act of spying on consumers.

Open the Proverbial Pandora's Box

Anyone following the Apple/FBI saga is familiar with the US government's position that forcing the technology giant to hack its own software is not a big deal because it involves only one phone. The argument is a red herring. Apple maintains, and the UK legislation proves, that writing software capable of circumventing security measures on one device opens the proverbial Pandora's box we used to be afraid of.

Imagine the local data centre that houses your small business website being hit with a government order to open up every server to their scrutiny. Your customers would instantly be at risk without ever knowing their information had been compromised. Furthermore, the government may come to you next.

In an era of cloud computing, global networks and lightning-fast data communications, individual security is as important as it has ever been. Our own government doesn't appear to agree. In light of what we now know about pending legislation, America's fight with Apple pales by comparison.



Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Australian Universities Announce Collaboration on Fibre Research

Three Australian universities have announced a joint project that will enable six researchers and their teams to collaborate on fibre research that could have a significant impact on long-haul communications using optical fibre networks. The three universities involved are Monash University, the University of Melbourne, and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

The universities hope to create a test bed for their research that would include a fibre optic link between the three schools, running from the city centre to the south-east limits of Melbourne. With that link established, researchers can test various fibre optic modulation and data transmission techniques that they believe will improve performance over long-haul networks.

According to researchers, all three schools possess the technical capability to transfer large amounts of information on in-house fibre optic networks and at comparably fast speeds but, when they attempt to transmit the data to external points, significant degradation weakens the integrity of the data stream. They are looking to establish a dedicated link in order to test their new techniques under real-world conditions. That requires moving out of the lab.

Creating Better Overseas Networks:

The ultimate goal of the Australian project is to create better overseas networks using existing infrastructure. If they can develop new techniques, combining both fibre optic and electrical data transmission using existing undersea cables, they could speed up intercontinental communications without the need for costly infrastructure replacement.

Those goals notwithstanding, some are wondering why the universities need an exclusive network on which to test their technologies. Researchers say they need a dedicated network for two reasons:

Firstly, they do not want the work they will be doing to interfere with existing data communications on public networks.

Secondly, they need to be able to control information flowing through the networks in order to put their new transmission techniques through the right kinds of tests. A real-world simulation on a dedicated network will allow researchers to progress more quickly than they would by using public networks.

Productivity without Adding Cost:

Assuming researchers get permission to build their network and that their tests prove successful, what they are hoping to achieve could dramatically improve the productivity of network communications without adding any cost to infrastructure maintenance and development. This is important in Australia, where fibre connections between cities and towns are limited. But, as the researchers point out, it is even more important to undersea networks.

Companies have already spent hundreds of millions on establishing reliable intercontinental networks by laying expensive fibre optic cables across the seas. Being able to utilise those cables more effectively is far more profitable than having to pull them up and replace them with something new. Proving this is possible is, ultimately, what researchers at all three universities are after.

Right now, it appears as if all systems are close to getting the research under way. Rest assured, the telecommunications industry will be keeping a close eye on how the network performs and what kinds of techniques the researchers have come up with.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Research shows 18.6% of colo customers considering migrating to another provider

Recent research conducted by London based managed hosting, colocation and network services provider, Coreix, has revealed that 18.6% of customers who use data centre services will be looking to migrate their services to another provider in the coming months. This research is highlighted in the company’s latest whitepaper ‘How To Guide: Choosing a Right Colocation Provider’ which looks to help customers assess their current colocation provider and establish whether their particular service offering will meet their requirements growing forward. It offers insights into those thinking about changing their colocation provider.

In Q3 of last year, Coreix conducted a survey with 110 senior executives who use data centre services in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands. It found that there were a surprising number of pain points which they are being faced with including lack of transparency around extra charges and poor levels of support.

The survey found that 18.5 percent of respondents were extremely unhappy at the lack of transparency about extra charges from their colocation provider. It highlighted that customers are not only unhappy at the lack of transparency over additional charges, but also frustrated that skilled personnel are often not permanently on site, faced with poor response times and that additional services such as anti DDoS solutions are not offered in some cases.

Commenting on the findings, Paul Davies, Technical Director at Coreix, said: “Although the colocation market is forecast to experience significant levels of growth in the coming years, customers are becoming increasingly vocal about their pain points.  The colocation sector would do well to remember that customers are increasingly astute, and service providers have to pay attention to these pain points if they wish to meet the demands of their customers in the years ahead. Hopefully this survey will have identified the areas where colocation providers can make improvements to enhance the customer experience.”

Davies added: “Customers are becoming more discerning and are demanding increasingly sophisticated offerings from their service providers. With 18.6% of businesses looking to change their provider in the coming months, it is crucial that colocation providers take on board the customer concern and frustration that the Coreix survey has revealed. Poor levels of support are a real concern for customers, with the survey revealing that a staggering 34.6 percent of organisations are dissatisfied with their existing providers support.”

Clients are now looking beyond just having a robust and secure facility with demanding SLAs, they want a service provider who is much more transparent and responsive to their needs.

Click here to download a copy of the whitepaper – How to Guide: Choosing the right colocation provider

Guest blog written by Anne-Marie Lavelle, Marketing Manager, Coreix


DDI: +44 (0) 203 475 2295 | Mobile: +44 (0) 7549 114 068 | Email: a.lavelle@coreix.net

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Scottish Power Looking to Increase Energy Storage Capacity

It is a given when trying to design and build a green data centre that energy storage will be an important part of the equation. Excess energy generated by alternative sources under ideal conditions needs to be stored for use when conditions are less than ideal. It is the age-old conundrum that green energy has faced since the industry was launched more than a decade ago. It is one that Scottish Power is attempting to address with plans to increase its own energy storage capacity.

Scottish Power is hoping to build a new dam at its Cruachan plant near Oban. The purpose of the new dam would be to increase its hydro pumping capacity, thereby increasing the amount of power it can add to the National Grid to make up for less-than-adequate supply as wind power accelerates across the UK. The utility believes it can generate an additional 400 MW of on-demand power through the construction project.

How Hydro Pumping Works

Hydro pumping, which is the process Scottish Power wants to employ through its new dam, involves pumping water to higher elevations during the overnight hours – using wind power – while prices are lower. Energy is essentially stored in that water that is now sitting and waiting to be released. During the day, when energy prices go up, the water can be released in a controlled manner. Gravity forces it down and into turbines that can generate more power than was used to pump the water the night before.

The system is cost-effective in the sense that there is a net gain in the amount of energy produced. However, building and maintaining the infrastructure is not cheap. Scottish Power is already saying it can only afford to build the dam if the government is willing to guarantee a specific floor price for energy added to the grid. The company says that the entire project will run them between £300 million and £400 million. In exchange for the guarantee, the utility is willing to accept capped profits. The government has not yet indicated whether it is on board with the plan.

Storage Makes All the Difference

It matters not whether you are talking about hydro pumping, wind farms, or using excess energy from data centres to generate electricity that can be added back to the grid. It is storage that makes all the difference. Whereas fossil fuel energy production can be tightly controlled (coal, oil, and gas can be burned at any time of the night or day), green energy is heavily reliant on the co-operation of nature. Making green energy cost-effective requires storing excess energy under optimal conditions in anticipation of those times when unfavourable conditions limit energy production.

As we develop more effective storage solutions, the promise of green energy becomes more realistic. But make no mistake, we are nowhere near mastering the storage problem. It makes sense to help Scottish Power do what it wants to do, knowing that this will help push green energy forward.