May 6, 2021

The uncertain future of Bitcoin mining

Cryptocurrencies
Bitcoin
CyptoMining
Sustainability
Harry Menear
3 min
From Beijing to Upstate New York, Bitcoin miners are facing increased negative attention due to the environmental impact of the practice.
From Beijing to Upstate New York, Bitcoin miners are facing increased negative attention due to the environmental impact of the practice...

Bitcoin mining has changed a lot since the launch of the blockchain-based crypto currency back in 2009. In the early days, the vast majority of Bitcoin mining was done at the individual level using personal home computer rigs - outfitted with top-of-the-line GPUs, yes, but still relatively similar to a high-end gaming computer.  

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Mining setups have gone from looking like this...

Now, Bitcoin mining is a very different beast. From vast crypto farms in China, to exa-scale data centres hooked up to Ukranian nuclear power plants, crypto mining has gone industrial in terms of its scale. Entire, multi-megawatt data centres used for crypto mining have been popping up all over the world in recent years, and the recent spikes in the price of Bitcoin itself have only served to pour fuel on the fire.  

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Or this ...

The result is a new breed of data centre, designed to be high-density, with low reliability (if they go down, they don’t knock out the whole internet for Western Germany, so the impetus to install N+1 redundant power is significantly weaker), and big appetites for power.  

Like any industry, scale means increased environmental impact, and for Bitcoin miners, the massive carbon cost of their activities is attracting the ire of environmentalists and lawmakers across the globe. 

Last week, the Chinese government announced that it would open an inquiry into the participation of Beijing’s largest data centre operators - which include the country’s three largest telecom firms - in crypto mining. At a time when the PRC government is attempting a significant reversal of its approach towards sustainability, the significant power draw of crypto mining activities may be one more hurdle than China cares to deal with. 

China’s pledge to halt its rise in carbon emissions by 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, has put lawmakers at odds with its crypto mining industry - which is the largest single market for such activities in the world. 

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... To looking more like this.

In March of this year, the Chinese government also announced a freeze on all existing and planned crypto mining activities in the northern province of Inner Mongolia - where some of China’s truly massive hyperscale data centre campuses are located. According to some sources, Bitcoin mining in Inner Mongolia was responsible for 8% of all crypto mining energy consumption worldwide. 

Indian lawmakers are also floating the idea of a crypto mining ban. In March, the government proposed a law that would ban the possession, issuance, mining, trading and transferring of all crypto-assets, from Bitcoin and Etherum to NFTs. 

Most recently, US lawmakers in New York State - led by Democratic Senator Kevin S. Parker - have also expressed their intent to impose a moratorium on crypto mining in upstate new york. The bill would derail recently announced plans by a bitcoin miner to purchase a gas-fired power plant in upstate new york which, instead of powering 85,000 local homes, will run 27,000 Bitcoin mining rigs 24 hours a day. 

“We’re talking about burning more fossil fuels to make fake money in the middle of climate change, which we view as insane,” said Yvonne Taylor, vice president of the environmental group Seneca Lake Guardian.

The proposed bill would require bitcoin miners to have their facilities pass environmental inspections in order to operate. 

Around the world, the question is being repeated louder and louder: should crypto mining be allowed to continue? Can we afford the carbon cost? 

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Jun 6, 2021

Unlocking the next chapter of the digital revolution

Dell
servers
IT
Technology
Tim Loake
5 min
Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies highlights the importance of often-overlooked digital infrastructure

As the world retreated to a hybrid world in 2020, our reliance on technology took the spotlight. But it was the jazzy new social and video calling platforms that took the encore. Behind the scenes, our servers worked overtime, keeping us connected and maintaining the drumbeat of always-on newly digital services.  Let’s take a moment to pay our respect to the unsung technology heroes of the pandemic – the often-forgotten IT infrastructure keeping us connected come what may. After all, as we look ahead to more resilient futures, they will be playing a central role.

Servers could be likened to our plumbing – vital to well-functioning homes but rarely top of mind so long as it is functioning. Never seen, rarely heard – our servers do all the graft with little praise. But it is essential to reflect on the incremental advances in GPU and CPU power, which have paved the way for new workloads that previously were not possible. Chatbots and native language processing that provide essential customer touchpoints for businesses across the retail and banking sectors rely on powerful servers. They also keep businesses competitive and customers happy in an always-on world. 

Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies
Tim Loake, Vice President, Infrastructure Solutions Group, UK at Dell Technologies

Serving workplace transformation

But, as businesses grappled with pandemic disruptions, the focus was largely on adopting connected devices – and awe at the rapid increase in the datasphere.  As they reined in their budgets and attempted to do more with less, one aspect was perhaps overlooked—those hard working servers.

When it came to building resilience into a newly remote workforce, the initial concern was focused on the device endpoints – keeping employees productive.  Many companies did not initially consider whether they had the server infrastructure to enable the entire workforce to log in remotely at the same time. As a result, many experienced a plethora of teething problems: virtual office crashes, long waits to get on servers, and sluggish internet connectivity and application performance, often rendering the shiny new PC frustrating and useless.

Most businesses only had a few outward-facing servers that could authenticate remote workers – a vital gateway as the vector for cyber hacks and attacks increased exponentially. That’s not to mention the fact that many business applications simply weren’t designed to work with the latency required for people working from home. What businesses discovered at that moment was that their plumbing was out of date.  

Business and IT leaders quickly realised that to stay ahead of the curve in the hybrid working world, a renewed focus on building agile, adaptable, and flexible IT infrastructures was critical. More importantly, it accelerated the inevitable digital transformation that would keep them competitive in a data-driven economy. It is now abundantly clear to businesses that they need IT infrastructure to meet the demands of diverse workloads – derive intelligent insights from data, deploy applications effectively, and enhance data management and security.  

Ripe for a digital revolution

Unsurprisingly, IDC noted that there was an increase in purchases of server infrastructure to support changing workloads. However, it also forecasts this uptick will be sustainable and last beyond the pandemic. As the economy begins to reopen, business leaders are looking ahead. IT will continue to play a crucial role in 2021 and beyond – and we have already set the foundations for the digital revolution with next-generation servers. 

As we enter the zettabyte era, new innovative technologies are coming on stream, with 5G turbocharging IoT and putting edge computing to work.  Exciting new services improved day-to-day efficiencies, and the transformation of our digital society will be underpinned by resilient IT infrastructures.  By embracing the technological innovations of our next-generation servers, businesses keep pace with the coming data deluge.

The next generation of server architecture promises more power with less heat, thanks to improved, directed airflow, and direct liquid cooling, resulting in reduced operational costs and environmental impact. As we rebuild post-pandemic, manufacturers and customers alike strive to achieve ever more challenging sustainability goals. With this in mind, a focus on environmentally responsible design is imperative for the servers of tomorrow -  uniquely designed chassis for adaptive cooling and more efficient power consumption will be critical, improving energy efficiency generation over generation.

The most notable evolution is the configuration of these next-gen servers around more specific organisational needs. Unlike clunky and often unstable legacy infrastructure, the infrastructure of tomorrow will be sturdier and more modular. The next iteration is streamlined, and in this modular form, can be more easily tailored to business needs. This equates to essential cost savings as businesses only pay for what they use.  

Resolving the problem of the future, today

Tomorrow's IT challenges will focus on response times and latency as Edge and 5G technologies go mainstream. As businesses develop new and innovative services that utilise supercharged connectivity and real-time analytics, staying on top of these challenges will give them a competitive edge. For example, in the world of retail, automation will power new virtual security guards and even the slightest delay in the data relay could result in financial loss. 

Similarly, in the smart cities of tomorrow, the network must be responsive. With city-centre traffic lights controlled by an AI-powered camera that monitors pedestrians, delays in data transfers could cost the life of an elderly pedestrian who has fallen in the road. The stakes are far higher in a 5G-enabled world. As our reliance on technology deepens, the margins for error narrow, placing greater emphasis on the efficiency of those critical underpinning technologies.

Fully enabling the hybrid work model today is just a stepping-stone towards more fluid, tech-enabled lives. A work Zoom call from an automated vehicle on-route to an intelligent transport hub is a highly probable vision of our future. But it requires incredible amounts of compute and seamless data transfers to make it possible. These glossy snapshots need super servers to come to life, making that IT plumbing glisten with next-gen innovation essential. Without exemplary server architecture, we risk future tech advances and the human progression that it enables. 

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