How crypto mining affects data centre sustainability
The words ‘bitcoin’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ are becoming more well-known and they have several benefits such as accessibility and offering the ability to make mobile payments. However, they do propose a few problems for the data centre industry, and so we are going to take a look at some of them to find out why.
Sustainability and an expanding carbon footprint
Before looking at its impact on data centres, it’s important to address how it affects sustainability in general. As demand for cryptocurrency increases so does the energy used by mining operators to extract it. A few weeks ago, the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, announced that the company is suspending vehicle purchases using bitcoin “due to the environmental impact of the fossil fuels used in the process of mining the currency.
In addition, a New York bill plans to prohibit crypto mining centres from operating until the full environmental impacts have been assessed. At the time of writing the bill is still in its proposal stages but hopes to make the process of mining cryptocurrency more environmentally friendly once those impacts have been analysed. However, how does all of this affect the sustainability of data centres?
The effects of cryptocurrency mining on the data centre industry
In order for cryptocurrency to be mined, it requires specialised high-performance hardware to solve computational algorithms accurately, quickly, and efficiently. This hardware produces a significant amount of heat which then has to be cooled which is where data centres are needed. There is increasing demand for them to be equipped with the technology to handle such a vast amount of heat, and specialised data centres are able to achieve this thanks to immersion cooling, a liquid cooling technique developed for this particular purpose.
For instance, ASICMiner uses a liquid known as Novec to cool the heat generated from the hardware, a system that works with the use of several hardware racks positioned inside tanks containing the Novec liquid. As the hardware’s heat levels increase, the Novec cools it down as it converts from a liquid to a gas.
The decarbonisation of blockchain
Carbon is an ever-increasing problem in the sustainability industry. Many companies are looking for ways of reducing it by using carbon-free energy sources to help minimise its impact on the environment. This is also true of blockchain, as organisations such as the Energy Web Foundation and the Renewable Energy Business Alliance are attempting to decarbonise it as much as possible. They are considering options such as using the XRP ledger, a low-carbon technology, as a way to reduce emissions for blockchain and cryptofinance.
As a carbon-neutral solution, the XRP Ledger uses a security and validation algorithm called Federated Consensus, which is, on average, 120,000 times more energy-efficient than the current “proof-of-work” process which involves mining.
Due to bitcoin mining being extremely computing intensive, it needs more computing-related and electrical power to keep the process running. This impacts the sustainability of data centres, particularly as such facilities that have been specifically adapted to support bitcoin mining are usually 1 megawatt to 5 megawatts in power.
Despite this, however, it seems that liquid cooling may be the only answer to mining bitcoin. This is primarily due to the increasing popularity of the currency, which, with it, brings greater demand for the hardware to be cooled. As such, and with some data centres being able to house up to 92 blades in a tank, the process of cryptocurrency mining looks as though it will continue yet.
Schneider Electric reveals new IT Innovation report
Schneider Electric has released a new IT innovations report titled “Digital Economy and Climate Impact”, with the aim of gaining an understanding of how digitised and smart applications will be powered in the future. The company says that the report predicts that IT sector-related electricity demand is expected to increase by almost 50% by 2030.
Despite this, the report also shows that emissions would not increase by more than 26% by the same year, following the decarbonisation of the electricity system. In an attempt to reduce this rise in emissions the Schneider Electric TM Sustainability Research Institute recommends continued efforts in achieving efficiencies on the IT and energy sides at both the component and system levels.
The report highlights how the rise of edge computing technologies require a “specific focus” due to these systems being less efficient than hyperscale data centres. “When the world locked down, it also logged on and internet traffic soared,” said Pankaj Sharma, EVP, Secure Power, Schneider Electric.
“It’s misleading to assume that digital activity will inevitably result in a deeply problematic increase in CO2 emissions. The analysis from the Schneider Electric Sustainability Institute puts to rest many of the worst-case scenario claims predicting IT-related electricity use will double every five years. That said, as an industry, we must remain vigilant in finding new sources of sustainability gains while ensuring resiliency as digital keeps life moving forward”, he added.
As well as the release of the report, Schneider Electric also announced several updates to its EcoStruxure IT data center infrastructure management software, Galaxy VL 3-phase uninterruptable power supply (UPS), introducing an industry-leading single-phase UPS, the APC™ Smart-UPS™ Ultra. All introductions are designed to advance the industry forward in meeting sustainability goals while increasing the resiliency of IT and data centre infrastructure, the company said.
Managing hybrid data center and edge IT environments
Also showcased in Schneider Electric’s report are the increasing demands on digital consumption. According to the company, these create a more complex hybrid environment inclusive of enterprise, cloud, and edge data centres. Addressing the unique management challenges of a hybrid IT environment, Schneider Electric has announced updates to its EcoStruxure IT software to increase efficiency and resiliency, including:
- Increased remote management capabilities: New granular remote device configuration features enable users to change configurations on one or more devices – including the new Galaxy VL and APC Smart-UPS Ultra single-phase UPS units – from one centralised platform with EcoStruxure IT Expert. This update, combined with previously released software insights on device security health, enables the user to identify faulty devices or configurations and address them in a matter of clicks, keeping their hybrid IT environment secure.
- Improved environmental monitoring: Environmental monitoring systems ensure users have eyes and ears on data centre and IT deployments from anywhere, anytime. With this update, users can push mass configurations remotely for NetBotz cameras 750 and 755 quickly and efficiently increasing security across the critical infrastructure.
- Enhanced remote capacity modeling and planning: With EcoStruxure IT Advisor’s new capabilities, users can remotely compare an unlimited number of racks and easily identify available capacity, view what assets are deployed and their dependencies.
Sharma concluded: “Schneider Electric has been focused on sustainability for the past 15 years and was recently named the most sustainable corporation in the world. We have embraced the mindset that future innovation will deliver better efficiency across the broader connectivity landscape. By making smart intentional choices, our industry can help mitigate how much electricity and emissions result from the rising appetite for digital technologies”.