NTT and SKY Perfect are building data centres in space
Japanese telecom and technology firm NTT announced this week that it has formed a new partnership with SKY Perfect JSAT Holdings. The “new space enterprise” reportedly plans to launch a data centre into space as early as 2025, and begin commercial operations the following year.
The data centre will be housed in a satellite which will sit in orbit above the earth, collecting data like images and video. Rather than the costly process of beaming all that information down to the planet below for processing, the micro data centre housed in the satellite will process the information above the atmosphere, only beaming the most valuable data collected down to terrestrial data centres several hundreds of miles below. The result, NTT claims, will be a massive reduction in the cost and time spent transferring critical data between satellites and their owners on the ground.
NTT and SKY Perfect don’t just want to launch one space-borne data centre; the companies’ joint press release paints a picture of a “space integrated computing network” which “ integrates multiple orbits from the ground to HAPS floating at high altitude, Low Earth Orbits and Geostationary Orbits.”
NTT has identified three main business avenues for the technology.
The first, a “space sensing project” will establish an integrated space and earth sensing platform that uses the world's first low earth orbit satellite MIMO technology to collect data from IoT terminals installed around the earth and provide a service using this platform, in addition to conventional data capture techniques using the satellites themselves.
The space data centre itself will reportedly be powered by NTT’s photonics-electronics convergence technology, which reduces necessary power consumption of the satellites and supposedly has a greater ability to resist the harmful effects of radiation in space.
Lastly, the joint venture is exploring applications for Space RAN as part of a "beyond 5G/6G" project which will use its constellation of LEO and HAPS satellites to potentially deliver ultra-wide, super-fast mobile connectivity from space.
NTT and SKY Perfect aren’t the first players to enter this new frontier; Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) plans to put its own data centre on the ISS in order to do much the same thing, and NASA has even announced plans to build the first data centre on the moon as part of its Project Artemis, which aims to establish a permanent lunar base as early as 2024.
How is AI helping to manage workloads in data centres?
Workloads are taking their toll on the data centre industry, increasing to the point where enterprises are now turning to artificial intelligence (AI) technology for help in reducing the burden on IT teams while boosting efficiency and reducing costs. But how can AI help, and are data centre managers prepared to hand over the responsibility of managing tasks to machines?
Management through automation
One way in which artificial intelligence can help control data centre workload is through automating it to the most efficient infrastructure both inside the data centre itself and in a hybrid-cloud setting consisting of edge, cloud, and on-premise environments.
If AI is used more in workload management, data centres in years to come will look different to those of today. The technology could see the creation of several smaller, interconnected edge data centres, all of which would be managed by a single administrator.
Reducing costs is something that many, if not all, organisations in the industry are looking to do, mostly due to several factors keeping costs high, such as inflation, and pandemic-necessitated budget cuts, and tougher competition. Jeff Kavanaugh, Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute, said: “AI and automation have proven to be powerful tools in workload management, as it frees employees from time-consuming and mundane tasks and allows them to focus on work that actually requires a human”.
Non-AI tools are reactive instead of proactive
While many data centre managers already enlist the help of non-AI tools to manage tasks, the tools in question are often reactive instead of proactive, according to Sean Kenney, Director, Advisory at KPMG. “They react to the problems in the data centre, but they don't collect data to determine any foresight to reduce the problem behaviour”, he said.
Sanket Shah, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Biomedical and Health Information Sciences at the University of Illinois in Chicago, believes AI can also help managers who may struggle to predict their future plans and requirements. He said: “With AI, capacity and horsepower can be allocated in a more efficient manner, allowing organisations to scale and become flexible. Automating certain processes and shifting power where necessary will ultimately lower costs for those [managers] that have rapidly evolving data needs”.
However, the use of AI technology in data centres is not a new concept. In 2014, U.S tech giant Google announced that it was using AI technology it purchased from the AI specialist DeepMind to enhance its data centre equipment management across several sites.
AI’s involvement in the data centre industry is ever increasing. Bill Howe, Associate Professor at The Information School of the University of Washington, highlights this, saying: "There are a tonne of choices and a tonne of limitations, but there are usually ways to mitigate those limitations.
“I don't see the problem of choosing the right methods and engineering solutions ... to be particularly more or less challenging in workload management than any other complex AI application”, he said.
It is clear that the use of AI technology in the industry is becoming more prominent. But what about its ability to replace humans? Richard Boyd, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of artificial intelligence and machine learning developer, Tanjo, said: "Machines simply cannot replace humans in many respects, but there are certainly areas where machines are much better than humans.
He concluded that "popular opinion will shift once AI and ML become prevalent and workers adapt to this new partnership”.