Networks Europe March/April 2019 - Page 21

GOING GREEN The pace of change in how we produce and consume data is accelerating. As our world becomes ever more interconnected, we must adapt and plan for the needs of tomorrow – as if it were yesterday if we want to keep up. Another major change we face as a society is a shift to a world driven by renewables in the face of climate change. Mostly, these shifts are considered in isolation, but a more coordinated approach reveals some useful intersections. By Kevin Stickney, Managing Director, Erda Energy Addressing data latency could lessen the environmental impact of data centres No time for buffering The premise of the classic cat video is changing, where once we may have required a few milliseconds to buffer and then be on our way, the cat now requires a constant, real-time connection for us to interact with him and move through his augmented reality space. Cats in virtual reality are perhaps a fairly low priority in terms of ensuring seamless data upload and download, yet the Internet of Things and emergency services are not. Latency, the measure of how long it takes to retrieve data from a server, is a critical issue when autonomous vehicles must make life-changing decisions instantly. It’s an important one in lots of other applications too; nobody will be interested in augmented reality if it can’t run as smoothly as real life, or doesn’t meet our visual quality requirements. The distance between user and server is a key factor in determining the level of latency: roughly 1 millisecond is added for every 60 miles the data must travel. To reduce latency and support the changing needs of data we must bring data centres closer to their users. In the past, many data centres were located in remote areas, where real estate is cheaper, and the power grid less strained, but recent technological developments open up new opportunities to create synergies between data centres and the communities in which they serve. This brings us neatly onto district energy, heating and cooling. Why burn fossil fuels when we can capture energy? District energy is a network of hot and cold water pipes that can be used to heat and cool buildings, whether that be businesses, homes, universities or shopping centres etc. In more traditional set-ups, the thermal energy is produced by boilers, combined heat and power or absorption chillers, all of which rely on using vast amounts of energy to generate heating and cooling. Yet, waste heat is all around us, seeping out of everyday infrastructures such as sewers, electricity substations, subways, buildings and EV charging stations as well as being stored in the ground around us and water sources including rivers. So, it doesn’t make sense to expend lots of new, fossil fuel-based energy to generate heat when we could just capture it instead. 21