Dataverse Growth Requires Sustainable Data Solutions

Jan. 22, 2021
Damien Gaynor, Chief Marketing Officer  from Echelon Data Centres,  explores the dataverse and how its growth requires sustainable data solutions. 

Damien Gaynor, Chief Marketing Officer  from Echelon Data Centres,  explores the dataverse and how its growth requires sustainable data solutions. 

Damien Gaynor, Chief Marketing Officer, Echelon Data Centres.

At this point we’re all familiar with the predictions. The dataverse – the amount of data created each year will, it is confidently expected, reach 175 zettabytes by 2025 – from 33 zettabytes in 2018.

It has also been predicted that, in the same time frame, there will be some seven internet-enabled devices for every man, woman and child on the planet, all of them generating data.

Partly, the growth will be driven by the desire for connectivity and accessibility in less-developed countries, with a particular spotlight on the African nations. Partly, it will be driven by the pandemic-driven reliance on videoconferencing and electronic communication.

But beyond this – and even as these predictions were being made – the tech landscape has changed dramatically.  AI has been a mainstream topic of discussion – a buzzword – for as many as 10 years. As we entered the third decade of the 21st century, however, we reached a tipping point. Things are happening and now that they’ve started, they’ll happen ever more quickly.

Instead of AI – which implies a machine mind that passes the Turing Test, still widely considered unachievable – consider Machine Learning, or ML.

The global ML market was valued at around $1.58 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach approximately $20.83 billion in 2024. Machine Learning enables software applications to be more precise in predicting results without being definitively programmed.

It’s been claimed that by 2050 all intellectual tasks performed by humans could be accomplished by artificial intelligence (ML) technology.

Common applications for the technology are already found in the fields of financial services, healthcare, government, marketing and sales, transportation, oil and gas, manufacturing, bioinformatics, computational anatomy – in fact, there are very few aspects of day-to-day-life, business and personal, that aren’t (or won’t be) touched by ML tech.

In terms of societal impact – children born from 2010-2025 are part of what’s called Generation Alpha, and are the most tech-infused demographic to date.

In 2017, a report stated that this generation would be much more aware of their AI interactions:

“They will converse with digital assistants, learn new skills from robots and be driven around in cars that are controlled by AI. Generation (Alpha) will become more independent as they grow up, thanks to assistance from AI, which will force them to become interdependent on the technology.”

In 2021, when the oldest of Generation Alpha are getting on for 11 years old, there’s already a mushrooming of the amount of devices, applications and innovations that make use of machine learning, and the IoT that enables machine-to-machine communication.

Every year, the Consumer Electronics Show provides a flavour of what this generation (and the one that follows it) can expect.

This year a rash of robotics (UBTECH, Samsung, LG and, of course, the work being done by Boston Dynamics) defined the online extravaganza. It all goes to imply that the dataverse growth predictions are understating the case – there will be far more data created than was expected in 2018.

In this scenario, demand for data center infrastructure, and the power and connectivity that it requires, will increase far beyond what is already expected and planned for.

Without the capacity to store, manage and process the data, the revolutions promised by applications of AI (or, more accurately, ML), facilitated by the IoT, won’t happen.

It’s not a question of whether limits can be put on data center expansion, nor is it a time for a ‘not in my backyard’ mindset.

Data center infrastructure providers will, in the medium to long-term, be called upon to mitigate the impact of the sector on the environment and, individually, to contribute to the communities in which they operate, on a local, regional and national level. And rightly so.

Renewable energy sources, increased efficiencies in energy usage and innovation in areas such as cooling and on-site renewable power generation are all things talked about as being desirable outcomes.

In the medium to long term, the industry needs to continue with its commitment to the green agenda, leveraging new opportunities and the development of new technologies to improve its performance against environmental and social goals.

In the short term, however, the sector needs to look at sustainability in a real sense – that’s making business decisions that are taken with a view to environmental and social impact, but without threatening the viability of the business, and preventing its growth.

These are the ‘halfway house’ solutions – gas-fired on-site energy centers that dispense with diesel generators by charging battery arrays to provide back-up power, or biogas facilities to power CHP generators to fulfil the same function.

On-site energy centers can also provide support to the grid with a rapid response, alleviating pressure during peak periods.

Data centers cannot and should not simply consume energy – we should work hand in hand with national grids to provide solutions that support their vital infrastructure.

These are not green solutions, but they are sustainable and can be achieved now, making data center infrastructure less reliant on fossil fuels and grid power, reducing emissions and allowing the sector to grow, while mitigating its impact.

In the medium to long term, the industry needs to continue with its commitment to the green agenda, leveraging new opportunities and the development of new technologies to improve its performance against environmental and social goals.

This means looking at deals like Echelon has struck in Ireland, co-locating grid infrastructure on a data center campus, facilitating the provision of >520MW of wind energy to the national grid.

It also means exploring new power sources, at the center of which is renewable ‘green’ hydrogen. 18 months ago hydrogen was the preserve of a fringe within the energy research and policy communities – a technology that captured the imagination and promised much, yet ultimately failed at the scale needed.

But hydrogen has a lot going for it. It is a clean-burning energy carrier whose only emission is water vapour, it has tremendously high energy density per unit mass, it can be used with very high efficiency to produce power and heat in fuel cells, and it can be made relatively easily by combining water and renewable electricity in an electrolyser.

In 2020, national hydrogen strategies were released by Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands. By the end of this decade, green hydrogen will be powering trucks, buses, trains and ships, heating homes and factories, fuelling the production of green steel, and storing wind and solar power across Europe.

All of this needs to be taken into account when developing plans for new data center infrastructure. That the global demand for data storage and processing will continue to grow is a given.

Whether data centers remain a part of the world’s environmental problem, or whether they become enablers – and a key part – of the solution, is not.

Damien Gaynor is Chief Marketing Officer at Echelon Data Centres.

About the Author

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