This article was originally published in Data Center Knowledge
People or servers?
Communities around the world are debating this question as they try to balance the plans of service providers and the concerns of residents.
Last year, the Greater London Authority told real estate developers that new housing projects in West London may not be able to go forward until 2035 because data centers have taken all of the excess grid capacity1. EirGrid2 said it won’t accept new data center applications until 2028. Beijing3 and Amsterdam have placed strict limits on new facilities. Cities in the southwest and elsewhere4, meanwhile, are increasingly worried about water consumption as mega-sized data centers can use over 1 million gallons a day5.
When you add in the additional computing cycles needed for AI and applications like ChatGPT, the outline of the conflict becomes more heated.
On the other hand, we know we can’t live without them. Modern society, with remote work, digital streaming and modern communications all depend on data centers. Data centers are also one of sustainability’s biggest success stories. Although workloads grew by approximately 10x in the last decade with the rise of SaaS and streaming, total power consumption stayed almost flat at around 1% to 1.5%6 of worldwide electricity thanks to technology advances, workload consolidation, and new facility designs. Try and name another industry that increased output by 10x with a relatively fixed energy diet?
Data centers in fact will play a pivotal role in reducing carbon emissions of other industries by fine-tuning the power consumption of homes, factories, buildings, and equipment: the World Economic Forum asserts that digital technology could reduce emission by 15% by 20307, or nearly 1/3 of the target they’ve set. You can see similar factors in telecommunications with companies such as Telefonica, which increased traffic by 5x while lowering overall power at the same time8.
Thus, the debate isn’t really about whether we should build new data centers. We need to and will. The debate is really about how they get built.
Power vs. the People: How Different Jurisdictions Are Reigning in Data Center Power (source: news reports, Uptime Institute.)
|Singapore||Construction moratorium on new data centers, 2019-2022.||New facilities need to maintain a PUE of 1.3 or less.|
|Netherlands||Nine month ban on facilities requiring 70MW in 2022 following expired one-year moratorium.||PUE of 1.2 the benchmark for new facilities.|
|Groton, Conn.||Moratorium through June 2023 on data centers over 5,000 sq. ft.||Environmental and noise restrictions expected.|
|Frankfurt||New cloud and co-location centers only in designated zones.||New regulations on waste heat reuse, sustainability.|
DSPs and the Digital Archipelago
Instead of building big, maybe we should think small, and shift from building massive, million-square foot data centers to archipelagoes of more moderately sized centers linked by optical connections to form virtual hyperscalers. Pluggable modules—which contain Digital Signal Processors (DSPs), amplifiers, controllers, optical modulators, photodetectors, lasers and other devices--essentially aggregate server traffic, convert it so it can flow across faster optical networks, and then fine tune signals so that they can travel longer distances without dropping bits. Think of how a flashlight beam disperses and blurs the further away you point: DSPs counteract that effect.
For the rest of the article, please go to Data Center Knowledge
Radha Nagarajan is SVP and CTO of Connectivity at Marvell and is a Visiting Professor at the National University of Singapore.
1. Financial Times.
3. S&P Global
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