Tuesday, 24 October 2017

London Embracing Square Mile Broadband Innovation

London's “Square Mile” city centre is a hotbed of economic activity and cultural development. It is not all that great when it comes to superfast broadband. London ranks 26th out of 33 European capitals for broadband speed, according to a recent report published by City A.M. But city officials intend to change that.

City A.M. reports that the City of London Corporation is on the cusp of launching a brand-new wi-fi network capable of achieving speeds as high as 180 Mbps within the Square Mile. If the plan comes to fruition, it will make London's city centre one of the fastest places in Europe for wi-fi internet access.

In addition, the government will be investing millions of pounds in the Square Mile over the next few years to upgrade fibre optic networks capable of delivering internet at 1 GB per second. City leaders have their eyes firmly focused on 5G wireless as well, with the intent of ensuring that mobile data services are the fastest in the world.

By February, City of London Corporation chair Catherine McGuinness says some 7,500 residents in 12 City Corporation housing estates will enjoy upgraded fibre optic. London eventually expects to expand the faster broadband throughout the City's seven boroughs.

Broadband the Future of Communications

So why exactly is the City of London pouring so much money into broadband and mobile communications? In a phrase, it is the future of communications. The UK has long been a technology leader in broadband and data delivery services and city officials want London to be at the forefront in both the short and long terms. City leaders believe it is worth the money to develop broadband and mobile services in the Square Mile.

You could make the case that part of the recent push by the City of London Corporation is a direct result of 2016's Brexit vote in as much as experts are warning of a business exit from the capital once the UK pulls out of the EU. Whether that exit actually occurs is of no consequence in this regard. Simply the fear of an exit is enough to spur city leaders to do whatever they can to encourage more businesses to stay in the city. If that means upgraded fibre optic broadband networks and faster wi-fi and mobile services, so be it.

Faster broadband and mobile services in the Square Mile area will certainly benefit local residents and businesses and it will benefit the rest of the UK as well. Over time, what is implemented in the City of London will gradually spread across the entire UK. The only question is whether it will happen fast enough to make us the legitimate leader in Europe.

Irrespective of if it does or not, London's city leaders believe it is imperative to keep the Square Mile at the cutting-edge of communications. They are backing up those beliefs with money; now we will see what that money buys. Hopefully it buys remarkably faster data services very soon.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Court Clears Way for New Apple Data Centre in Ireland

The Commercial Court with jurisdiction over County Galway in western Ireland recently dismissed two cases, clearing the way for Apple to take the next steps in developing a group of data centres planned for the county. Apple will spend upwards of €850 million (£762 million) to build the 8-facility campus.

New reports say that two law suits were brought against the project after the local Board gave its permission back in August. Commercial Court justice Paul McDermott rejected the lawsuits on different grounds. Apple may now proceed, though there is still no guarantee that the data centres will be built. Other hurdles will have to be cleared.

Local Objections

The first lawsuit to challenge Apple's plan was brought by a local couple whose home is located near the proposed site. They claimed that Apple failed to carry out a proper environmental impact assessment, making the original Board decision invalid. Justice McDermott disagreed.

The second case was brought by another local resident who believed that proper planning procedures were not being followed. The plaintiff claimed to not be opposed to Apple's plans per se, he was just convinced that there were some planning procedure issues. Apple maintained that the plaintiff had made no submissions to the Galway County Council in opposition to the project, nor had he appealed to the local Board. The Commercial Court sided with Apple.

Big Plans by Apple

Since the project was first proposed, Apple has had big plans for Galway. They have maintained all along that building the new data centres will add hundreds of jobs to the local area while also helping to meet the growing demand for data processing and storage in Ireland.

Apple has not detailed exactly what they plan to do with the data centre, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility to assume it could be a very important data processing hub for the British Isles, if not most of Western Europe. Some news reports have speculated that Apple wants to use the new facilities to power everything from the iTunes Store to iMessage throughout Europe.

Irish Minister for community development Seán Kyne greeted the Commercial Court ruling with delight, calling it "very positive news for Galway and the West of Ireland." He and some 4,000 local members of an Apple Facebook page are encouraged by the ruling, especially given that the project has been delayed numerous times over the past two years.

It is understandable that there are objections whenever a data centre of this size is proposed. However, the courts have to be very careful about ruling based on public opinion. The digital world is expanding exponentially with every passing quarter and we are going to need a lot more data centres in the very near future to keep up with demand. Unless the world is ready to go back to the pre-digital era, both consumers and courts have to be willing to allow data centres to be built.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

New Microsoft Data Centre Powered by Natural Gas

No matter what you think of Microsoft software and licencing, it is hard to argue against the fact that the American company is among a small handful of technology leaders paving the way to a greener future. The latest iteration of Microsoft's efforts in the green arena come by way of a brand-new data centre – they are calling it a 'lab' instead – powered entirely by natural gas.

Built in Seattle in the United States, Microsoft's Advanced Energy Lab is a new kind of data centre designed around Microsoft's decades-old 'Tent City' concept. What makes the lab so unique is the fact that it was built from the ground up with the goal of being completely separate from grid infrastructure. Microsoft officials say this is a distinct difference in as much as other efforts to use renewable energy to power data centres have been pursued in parallel with grid energy. Microsoft wanted to be the first to come up with a design that required absolutely no power from the grid.

Natural Gas and Fuel Cells

The Advanced Energy Lab powers its servers with energy derived from natural gas. Servers are hooked directly to a natural gas connection that utilises highly efficient fuel cells for power. The fuel cells convert energy from the gas into electricity for both server power and cooling. The benefits to this design are numerous:

  • Keeping power separate from the grid allows the data centre to continue operating even if the surrounding grid goes down due to natural disaster or infrastructure failure
  • The system is more efficient because it reduces the waste and loss of traditional grid distribution, transmission and conversion
  • The design is a comparatively simple one as well, reducing the likelihood of failure by reducing the number of 'moving parts' in the system
  • Data centres based on this design will cost less to build, operate and maintain across-the-board
Microsoft began working on the lab in earnest after developing a partnership with the National Fuel Cell Research Centre in 2013. Their first promising breakthrough came in 2014 when a pilot project proved that fuel cells do not necessarily require clean natural gas to work. The pilot proved that biogas, a renewable fuel, would work just as effectively.

According to Microsoft, the Advanced Energy Lab encapsulates everything the company has learned thus far about natural gas and fuel cells working in tandem to generate electricity. In the coming months and years, they will be refining the technology with the goal of eventually putting it into service.

Microsoft eventually hopes to put together an energy-independent, green and efficient data centre, capable of meeting our ever-expanding data needs without having any negative impact on the environment. It would appear as though the Advanced Energy Lab is a rather large step in that direction. Where they go from here is anyone's guess, but you can bet whatever Microsoft does will probably break new ground. If nothing else, it will be fascinating to watch…