06-05-2022 | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, 7 major Japanese tech companies have announced that they will be joining forces to try and reduce server power usage by up to 40%. Why are data centres a major point of concern for energy consumption, how will the 7 tackle this challenge, and does the use of cloud computing offer new options for renewable energy sources?
The pressure to fight climate change continues to grow, and those in the electronics industry are facing stricter regulations when it comes to device efficiency. By reducing the amount of power consumed by electronic devices, the overall amount of CO2 produced from energy sources is reduced, which further helps to reduce global CO2 emissions.
However, the nature of computing has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The rise of data centres and cloud computing now sees these sites as some of the largest contributors to CO2 through energy consumption. But many environmental regulations generally target consumer devices and not commercial and industrial equipment, meaning that datacentres can continue to generate large amounts of CO2.
Furthermore, datacentres also require additional power for air conditioning, which is an extremely power-hungry operation.
Reducing the amount of power used by a data centre is not only beneficial for the environment but also beneficial to running costs. Electricity is generally the most considerable running cost in a data centre with a 100-rack server easily able to run up an electrical bill of $3 million a year. Even a modest saving of 10% could see a 100-rack server save $300,000 a year.
Recognising the importance of reducing power consumed by datacentres, seven major tech companies in Japan have announced that they will be joining forces to try and reduce the overall power of datacentres by 40% while retaining the same processing power. The seven companies in the joint task force include Fujitsu, NEC, Kioxia, Kyocera, AIO Core, Fujitsu Optical Components, and Zeon. They all have their own area of expertise, including processor design, memory architecture, optical data transport, and power management.
To achieve this goal, the joint task force will be looking at data processing and storage as these account for the vast majority of power drawn by a computer. For example, NEC will use their speciality in processor design to create hardware accelerators that will reduce CPU usage on commonly used energy-intensive tasks. At the same time, Zeon will focus on material technologies for data storage in NRAM, which will ideally replace energy-intensive DRAM with a non-volatile low-energy alternative.
Furthermore, fibre-optic communications and optical chip communication will help reduce the amount of energy used while allowing for greater bandwidths. Greater bandwidths enable the systems to be reduced in clock frequency, and this can contribute to a significant reduction in energy usage.
The move by the seven Japanese companies comes from the increasing restrictions being put in place against data centres. By reducing the amount of energy consumed, governments will be less likely to turn down proposals for new data centre sites, which will allow both technology and the economy to grow.
However, the shift towards cloud computing may present the renewable energy industry with a new opportunity. Renewable energy faces two main challenges which prevent its widespread use; energy availability and demand. The inability to store renewable energy when it is abundant means that it cannot be used to its fullest potential and the high cost of renewables makes it expensive to deploy.
If data centres become more widespread, it may make sense for renewable energy sources to be deployed at these locations directly. The large amounts of heat generated by server farms could potentially be stored for use when renewable power is at its minimum. The large amount of energy needed by datacentres may help to incentivise renewable deployment (ensuring that at peak energy production, the datacentre will be able to use the full amount).
Overall, data centres are major energy consumers, and reducing their power consumption will be essential with the increasingly tighter restrictions imposed by governments. But the deployment of on-site renewable energy sources could help offset the energy consumption and further help reduce the price of renewable energy.