The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing!

Published on 6th December 2014 by Ian Bitterlin

The European Commission has outlined a new £250 billion plan to ‘improve infrastructure and broadband’ under the grandiose title of the European Fund for Strategic Investments. It was presented to the European Parliament in Strasbourg by the head of the gravy-train Mr Juncker. The details are that the Commission is setting up a new fund with £16.7 billion of seed capital to kick-start £250 billion of private funding over three years and so create a million jobs. One of the main thrusts is improve broadband - and therein lies a problem for the data centre industry. On the one hand we have this new initiative set against the previously declared ambition of 20MB/s super-fast broadband for every EU citizen. On the other hand we have DG CNNECT, the EU department that has declared itself responsible for reducing data-centre energy consumption. The one hand has no idea about what the other hand is doing. No coordination, no joined-up thinking? So what is the problem? Expanding access speed will, with no doubts whatsoever, increase traffic and traffic consumes power. It’s the modern day equivalent of Jevons Paradox (now also known as the Rebound Effect) where increased efficiency leads to increased, not decreased, fuel consumption. If that wasn’t bad enough we are facing the end of Moores Law inside the next five years and so, unless a paradigm shift occurs (in both silicon being replaced by graphene or something else and in network photonics) we will be having to cope with a dramatic surge in power consumption. The only thing holding power consumption growth back to 15-20% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) against the tsunami of data generation and transport growing at 70-80% CAGR is a confluence of Moores Law, Virtualisation & Utilisation. Without Moores Law the power growth will accelerate to 55-60% per year. The increased traffic will not, as the EU press release suggests, ‘invest in our future... (for) broadband, education, research and innovation’, but will fuel social networking, on-line gaming, on-line gambling and entertainment in general – all HD and UHD video consumption. There are only two chances of success that are sustainable in the short-term. The first is that the technology industry achieves in the next 15 years what it has done in the last 15 years and that is produced over 1250x the ICT capacity per kWh. To achieve that a paradigm shift is needed within 5 years and then adoption of the latest technology will need to be rapid. This is still not sustainable as it will be a ‘business as usual’ scenario with 15-20% CAGR power growth, but preferable to the alternative. The second is that EU starts to think about access and usage. The social worth of applications may even come onto the agenda – but I doubt it as the politico’s need to get themselves elected and telling the younger generation that their social networking will be taxed won’t be popular. As Vint Cerf said in 2011 – ‘Internet access will become a privilege, not a right’. As the inventor of the IP address and regarded as one of the Fathers-of-the-Internet, his insight may yet prove to be bang on the money...


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Prof. Ian Bitterlin is the Chief Technology Officer for Emerson Network Power – the world leader in data-centre power and cooling infrastructure solutions and integrated DCIM software. Recognized in the industry as an expert mechanical and electrical engineer, Ian has produced numerous wh ... More

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