Power or more precisely the potential lack of power to deal with the growth in computation was the brooding presence at the 5th Data Centre Transformation Conference held at the University of Manchester on 14th July.

At the very start of the key note session Professor Jon Summers from the Institute of Thermofluids at the School of Mechanical Engineering, Leeds University dared to declare that there was a physical limit to computation and that we would reach that point in 2050, or 2048 to be precise if you believe in the end of Koomey’s Law. (If I have piqued your interest look it up on Wikipedia)

In his defence he did say that Theoretical Physics is 99% rigorous, but statistics and growth projections are not really that reliable. There are also paradigm shifts in computing which may completely change the equation, so the end of the computing world is not necessarily nigh. However the point was made. Growth in in computing requirements will continue to challenge our ability to provide both power and cooling. At least the power and cooling vendors in the room were happy. If you want some statistics to bring the scale of the problem into sharp relief, then by 2050 data centres will consume 70% of the 2013 EU generated electricity and the amount of data stored per annum will equate to 350 hours of 4k video for every person on the planet.

This leads on nicely to a typically robust and entertaining presentation from Ian Bitterlin who highlighted the conundrum; some would say madness, at the heart of Government policy. On the one hand the Government is promoting the development of high speed broadband access for all. On the other hand DEFRA have a range of schemes promoting energy efficiency and carbon neutrality in data centres. No contest…with an Internet Exchange like AMSIX experiencing 4% compound growth per month and the lowest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy now amusingly being cast as Wi-Fi access. It does raise the question “do we need to view internet access as a privilege rather than a right?”

Taking their cue from this focus on power speakers from academia, government agencies and commercial vendors discussed a range of alternative approaches to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of power and cooling. In amongst interesting and innovative approaches to waste heat utilisation and using total liquid cooling in place of less efficient air cooling there was a suggestion that if you want to reduce your power output you need to stay on the front edge of Moore’s Law and refresh your server estate regularly.

Our old friend PUE came in for some flak. It’s not so much that the measurement is wrong, although Ian Bitterlin felt it was irrelevant compared to Moore’s Law, but that we are too fixated on it as a single measurement that can sometimes have unintended consequences. Mark Seymour from Future Facilities Ltd demonstrated that a more holistic approach that looked at IT thermal resilience, IT thermal conformance and Infrastructure Energy Efficiency in combination with PUE would give a much better view of how effectively we were managing Carbon, Water and Power usage.

Aside from the discussions about power honourable mentions should be made for two other presentations, one from Dennis Kehoe on the impact of the Software Defined Data Centre on future developments, and an impassioned plea from Mark Acton from CBRE for combined IT and FM operations in the Data Centre.


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