back to article Too many bytes and not enough bricks for datacenters

The European datacenter industry is facing issues meeting the growing demand for capacity with materials and heavy equipment to build sites in short supply, among other factors. A report produced by power generator supplier Aggreko [PDF] claims that demand is outstripping supply in the datacenter market, but there are a number …

  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Mushroom

    All this effort just to disseminate cat videos and hate speech.

    1. Dimmer Bronze badge

      Smaller, faster

      Did this study take into consideration that equipment just gets smaller, more efficient and faster?

      1. abend0c4

        Re: Smaller, faster

        And that the opposite applies to the software?

      2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

        Re: Smaller, faster

        It does, but I think the need for extra servers is increasing as fast as their size is decreasing.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Smaller, faster

        That just results in racks drawing even more power as more can fit into them

    2. Vikingforties

      Not forgetting the administration of feedback forms checking that you've had a good experience whilst viewing your cat video.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        And the algorithms to suggest that because you watched this cat video you might also like this video where an obese shouty man explains why your religious group controls the weather

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
          Joke

          I thought it was your sexuality that controlled the weather?

    3. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
      Coat

      why do we need datacenters now that everything is in the cloud?

      (and the weather has been definitely cloudy)

  2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Rather than building new data centres, could existing commercial property, i.e. all those offices which are supposedly empty/under-occupied because of home/hybrid working, be re-purposed? I appreciate that there would be effort required to get the infrastructure up to snuff, but surely it'd be less work than actually breaking ground and building from scratch.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      > could existing commercial property, …be re-purposed?

      I’m sure there is a steady supply of “on prem” datacentre properties up for sale, vacated by their owners due to systems having been migrated into the cloud…

      1. Kev99 Silver badge

        Ah, yes, the cloud. And what is a cloud? It's a bunch of holes held together by vapor that some bean counter listened to a PFY about how much money it could save.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          I had a beancounter raving at me about cloud costs. We sent him off to a sales presentation he wanted to attend with instructions to enquire about the cost of READING the stored data

          That was the last time he ever suggested it - and he approved a budget increase for us too

    2. Lurko

      @Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese: Stripping an office building or shop back to bare bones is neither here nor there in architectural/building terms, but I'll wager the designers of DCs will assure you that building from scratch is quicker, cheaper and lower risk than repurposing an old asset. Critical considerations are that scale is usually but not always important, then you've got the cost (and weight) of the IT, power and cooling kit, and crucially power supply (possibly dualled) and site backup. And don't forget the cost of the data lines (again, perhaps dualled) through made up ground to a suitable telecoms connection point.

      If you want a smaller DC of say 2,000 square metres then that's the size of your typical Aldi or Lidl store. But power needs for a DC of that size are around 3MW, and that's at a guess 15 times the normal grid connection capacity of a store. Which means you need a new grid connection all the way back to somewhere with a lot of spare capacity, you need parking for a 30 tonne genset plus however much fuel (and safety and planning approvals). For a smaller, newer building condition and suitability risks should be low, so might be feasible, don't give you much hope on the power issues.

      For bigger DCs in say a vacated department store site it's even more problematic on the power front. It's widely known in technical circles, but little known outside of them that almost all UK urban power grids have no spare capacity due to the way they have evolved. And adding network capacity is ruinously expensive and sometimes nigh on impossible. It's entirely normal to find major substations fed only by buried cables that have had years of buildings being constructed over them, but even where things are better, you can be sure nobody designed the system on the basis that a new and significant power user was going to turn up. Short of government getting involved and compulsorily purchasing land, or closing arterial roads for years at a time it isn't going to be possible. The cost? Well consider that to put 6km of power lines underground to make way for the London Olympics, £130m. And then chances of getting planning permission for a bank of six big gensets in a city centre? Nah. Factor in what structural and practical nasties (such as asbestos, alkali-silica reaction, inadequate construction standards, undocumented construction or modification etc etc) the builders and architects might find when they strip an old multi-floor retail or office building back, and it's starting to sound like madness, you'd agree? And there's other stuff, like an urban DC has likely greater security needs, is more subject to adjacent building risks (eg fires), more susceptible to grid or data line outage.

      You'd be better off looking at former industrial brownfield sites that frequently have good power supply and doing new build DCs on them. This sometimes happens, but planners are usually far too busy cramming more nasty, pokey modern houses onto those sites, or building retail parks under the illusion that those "create jobs". And if you can get brownfield sites, it needs to be site cleared and development ready - no DC investor wants construction delayed by "unexpected ground conditions", UXBs, archaeological investigations, or all the other reasons building gets stalled.

      So brownfield if it's available, but greenfield is often the only sensible choice.

      1. David Hicklin Bronze badge

        > UK urban power grids have no spare capacity due to the way they have evolved

        Around here they spend months digging up the roads and putting new cabling it for electrical power for a new developments as the local area has not more capacity. Looking forward to it all going up in smoke when electric cars become the norm.

        I can remember as a kid at my parents when there were probably 8 power sockets in the entire house, not they are everywhere with load of stuff plugged in.....

        1. Lurko

          The big problem we will have with widespread EVs and heat pumps, is that not just household electrics, but our entire distribution system was designed around the assumption that all anybody needed was a cooker, a kettle, a crap electric shower or immersion heater, a couple of fan heaters and light bulbs, so doubling that load to a peak design of 100 amps for a house, 40-60 amps for a flat and an average load a LOT lower than that. Peak load from EV charging, or coldest nights heat pump load will blow those assumptions out of the water, as well as blowing underground cables.

          Look at ring mains - a British bodge to save on copper years ago that most of the rest of the world looks at and thinks WTF? Even then, we've got the horrible problem of single phase household supplies - in Germany (possibly other countries) three phase household supplies are common, meaning that increased demand doesn't mean you have to dig up the entire distribution system, even though you might need to reinforce some of the grid feeds and transformers.

          If anybody in government has asked the right questions (or listened to the sort of comments they didn't want to hear), they'd have realised that their net zero world of EVs and heat pumps required about half a trillion quid spending on enablers like a complete new distribution system, new household electrics, and masses of insulation. Then they need to ask where's the reliable sources of electricity, given the mad energy policy that's let our nuclear assets dwindle, solar is crap in this country, and wind is vulnerable to long periods of calm during winter anticylcones (ballpark figure to address, another half trillion). It's a mess, a huge expensive mess, and nobody in Parliament has the wit to understand it, or the courage to admit it. Every one of the ten energy ministers we've seen since 2010 (and indeed the seven under the preceding Labour tenure) has come into post know less than the square of stuff all, and breezed into office thinking that energy suppliers want to supply dirty energy, and that the simple answer is a bit of solar and a few windmills. Clueless twerps the lot of them, egged on by the Climate Change Broadcasting Corporation and noisy special interest groups.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            > Look at ring mains

            I'd rather not.

            They're not even NEEDED these days (radial mains is perfectly acceptable and tacitly encouraged(*)) but rings save (a very small amount of) money(**) and those who approve the works can't envisage anything else.

            (*) I'd like to see a rule change mandating radials for new builds

            (**) Mainly because you can put FAR TOO MANY outlets on a single ring whilst radials have strict limits on potential draw

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Yeah, but even though we use a lot more electrical devices, those devices draw a lot less power.

          Remember filament light bulbs? The used to pull an average of 60W....pretty much everyone has LED lights or compact florescent bulbs now which pull in orders of magnitude less power.

          When I was a kid, we had 120W light bulbs in some rooms for extra brightness...sometimes several of them in a single light fitting...today, I have a 24 core server, with 8 hard drives in it that pulls 125W under my desk.

          Also, TV sets...an old CRT TV would early burn over 100-150W...a modern OLED TV burns about a quarter of that and automatically goes into standby / low power mode...a CRT never went into standby...

          Mo' devices does not mean mo' power.

          The appliances that draw the most power are clothes driers, dishwashers and large freezers....clothes driers and dishwashers weren't all that common 30 years ago. They are a lot more common today.

          The problem with capacity has nothing to do with people using more power, it has everything to do with cutting corners on maintenance.

          It makes me cringe when people think that the average household is using more power today than they did 30 years ago...it makes me cringe even harder when people still tell you to turn the light off when you leave a room to "save energy"...modern lightbulbs are insanely efficient, it would take years for a modern lightbulb to burn the same energy that an old fashioned lightbulb would burn in a couple of hours. If I left my LED lights on for 24 hours by mistake, in my entire house, it would cost me roughly £1-2. If I switch off the light when I leave a room, and only switch the lights on when I go into a room, in my house with a family of 5, it would save me pennies a day. I might save a fiver over the year...if I spent time going round turning lights off after people, it would waste over the course of a year, probably an hour or two of my time...I bill clients at £50 an hour on average...so it would actually cost me £45 more to faff around turning lights off...add to that the relentless mental anguish you'd get bollocking 3 kids for not turning lights off constantly that will get you nowhere.

          It's the same with nutters that turn off their heating entirely in an effort to save energy...sure in the warmer months, that makes sense...but in the winter, it uses more energy to heat your house from scratch, heating up a cold tank of water than it does to keep your heating tank at a constant, minimum temperature...because each time you want to heat a room, you only need a little bit of extra energy to get the tank up to temperature...whereas if you want to heat your water from cold, it requires significantly less power. Also, factor in that reasonably modern boilers are capable of recycling the heat in the loop, so the longer you leave your heating on, the less energy you actually burn because the boiler will use less energy to maintain the heat.

          It's all bollocks. Households are not the problem when it comes to energy consumption...large office buildings are the problem...high power lights on 24/7, air conditioning and heating running constantly to heat / cool massive spaces...PCs left running 24/7 etc etc...

          If we really want to save energy, we need to work from home and shut down the old fashioned, shitty office blocks.

          As for electric cars overloading the grid...how many cars do you think are going to be charging simultaneously?

          There are 33.2 million cars on the road in the UK...but only 8,365 petrol stations...if we assume that each petrol station has an average of 6 pumps...that means that at any given time a maximum of 50,190 cars can refuel at a time...if every petrol station is full...but they rarely are constantly full...because cars, weirdly, spend more time driving around or being parked up than they do fuelling up...the same applies to charging electric cars...except for electric cars, there are 22,000 locations across the UK for charging and far fewer electric cars than petrol / diesel cars.

          It's baffling to me that people come to the conclusion that there is a capacity problem for charging electric cars without considering the capacity that exists for fossil fuel burners.

          The problem with electric car charging capacity is that electric cars have built in route planners that pick out charging points to stop at on planned route...multiply this by thousands of cars, and suddenly you have shit loads of electric cars all following virtually similar routes (because they are all computed using the same algorithm)...the problem isn't capacity, the problem is logical...if we had an algorithm that was a bit smarter and aware of other vehicles following similar routes, we could have electric cars that pick charging points on a given route that won't be busy...disperse the load.

          I also have to wonder why we need to own the batteries at all...wouldn't it be a lot easier if we had a modular, standardised battery setup, that allows us to swap a battery pack to a fully charged one and get on our way rather than stand around waiting for the one we own (and wear out) to charge up?

          Calor gas, if you're listening, get into the battery business.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            6 pumps is 12 cars per station, no?

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            "Remember filament light bulbs?"

            Yup, and replacing them with LED made almost zero difference to my power bill(*)

            They may draw less, but lighting is a tiny part of the overall equation (especially offpeak - streetlighting switchoff schemes "to save money" have frequently resulted in local authorities being charged MORE for their power as the lighting load was a useful way of shedding excess generation rather than letting burners go cold in CCGT plants)

            In any case, things like bigscreen TVs and other electrical kit have vastly outpaced reductions from changing domestic lighting

            (*) On the other hand, I haven't had to go up a ladder and change bulbs in a very long time

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        I suspect the best brownfield site would be a steelworks or other heavy industrial site, or adjacent to a substation with incoming overhead 200kV lines

        The average industrial estate/factory really didn't pull much power per square metre

    3. MyffyW Silver badge
      Coat

      How about we run the cloudy-bollocks load on a rack of servers in everyone's home in place of our gas-fired boilers? All we'd need is additional electrical power, aircon in the summer, adequate physical security, reliable home broadband ... ok I'll get my coat

      1. Vikingforties

        Qarnot in France.

        qarnot.com/

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          Ah La Belle France - well then it would have the advantage of being nuclear-powered (for the moment)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes and no.

      Bog standard commercial property would be expensive to bring it into line with purpose built datacentre property mostly because of the power redundancy requirements, cooling etc.

      You can bung a bunch of racks basically anywhere, but in order to be able to offer a certain SLA you need to be somewhere purpose built.

      I would be more than inclined to spend money on local colo in an empty office building near me...but unfortunately as has always been the case, I suspect it would ultimately be a rip off.

      I'd be fine with 8U somewhere with a gigabit uplink...but alas, you always get shafted on either power, bandwidth or space. You can never have all three for some reason.

      E.g. you can use as much power as you like, and as much bandwidth as you like...but you only get 1U.

      You can have 8U and as much bandwidth as you like, but you get 2A and one power socket.

      I would much rather sacrifice SLA, because its way easier to have redundant locations that you control than it is to fix arbitrary limits that have been set by bean counters.

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge

    I've got an idea

    Hear me out... what would happen if we processed the data locally on the device instead of having all these devices dedicated to drawing spinning almost-circle shapes while they wait for the answer to be served from them from a bitbarn.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: I've got an idea

      Call it Edge Computing and you're onto a winner

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: I've got an idea

        That does not sound very, well, personal?

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: I've got an idea

          How about “coop”, and give it the tagline: “coming home to roost”

      2. Ken G Silver badge

        Re: I've got an idea

        Call it 'Sovereign Cloud' and you can charge more.

      3. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

        Re: I've got an idea

        Included with your M365 license: MS Edge Computing

    2. CommonBloke

      Re: I've got an idea

      It already happens, it's why we have to download 20MB of javascript + 300MB of nonsensical bloat important files for a single page application to run properly on your browser, who'll do all the heavy lifting by itself!

    3. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: I've got an idea

      And it saves on watching the spinny circle thing while trying to connect to the cloud while listening to vermin media customer disservice saying "your call is important to us..... please wait while we deal with the other 49 000 customers who've lost access because some giganet prick in a JCB cant follow the painted lines while digging"

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I've got an idea

      Great idea, but we'd get banned from every app store for highlighting how shitty most devices actually are when it comes to local processing because we'd cripple peoples battery life.

      UP TO 24 HOURS BATTERY LIFE*

      *when sat on a test bench, idle and CPU set to 100mhz with the screen off.

  4. Kev99 Silver badge

    I wonder if using old mine tunnels for the centers would save a bit on cooling and construction costs?

    1. Dimmer Bronze badge

      Underground

      Our is under ground. It get hot quick when the AC is out and no windows to put the fans in.

      1. Lurko

        Re: Underground

        And if a system of underground tubes was an adequate cooling system, then the London Underground would not be the sweaty hell hole that it invariably is.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Underground

          But there is Thames waters network of tunnels; complete with a free supply of liquid coolant…

          1. MyffyW Silver badge

            Re: Underground

            Well yes, except for those fatbergs of lard and wet wipes which we've all managed to contribute to. Although, if we watch enough cat videos, maybe we can melt those too?

            1. Vikingforties

              Re: Underground

              Immerse servers in fatbergs! Genius way to go for single phase liquid cooling.

              I always thought we could combine data centres and local chippies with the servers heating the deep fat friers.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Underground

                We already have greasy datacentres that smell of shit...Milton Keynes invented them in the 90s.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      >using old mine tunnels

      But demand would soon outstrip existing capacity and so we would need to dig new mine tunnels

  5. Binraider Silver badge

    Just how much rubbish do we really need to catalogue...

    1. moonhaus

      "Just how much rubbish do we really need to catalogue"

      All of it. Then we need to think of new rubbish we've not yet made and catalogue that as well, plus the names of the people that inspired the idea, along with multiple pictures of their cats if they have any, with suggestions of what cats they might like if they don't. Then we need to add a comments section.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The new landfills

    Data centers.. another word for software landfills. Servers are the waste buckets. Trash is the software. Cloud providers the gods of pollution enablemen. Dont need 200 garbage copy/paste videos of the same news. Dont need 500 forks of the same git repo in the cloud. somewhere there must be a point of cost versus convenience posting crap.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The new landfills

      You do if the software developers insist on using the maximum number of UNIONS and JOINS to avoid writing decent code. Why bother optimizing your databases when you can just JOIN or UNION every table and bring back every row then write some shitty Javascript to process it all?

      If we want to make IT greener, we need to start calculating the carbon footprint of shitty code written by crappy developers. There is just as much performance to be gained in optimising code as there is in just throwing more cores / RAM at the problem.

      The problem with datacentres isn't the engineers, it's the software devs.

      Dev: Man, the platform is getting slow.

      Engineer: Shall we take a look at the queries and see if we can make them lighter?

      Dev: Nah, we need a queuing system.

      Engineer: Hmm...ok. I've deployed one.

      Dev: Better, but still slow...how about we have a cluster of queues?

      Engineer: Hmm...but then we'll have 4 servers running 24/7 just to mask the fact your code is shit.

      Dev: The code isn't shit...you just haven't built a fast enough platform for it.

      Engineer: Hmm...ok...but I can see a query that has 87 joins, 98 unions and brings back 90 million rows and takes 15 seconds per request...is that optimal?

      Dev: It's the only way. We'd have to rewrite the code to fix that and I've convinced management that it would be too expensive.

      Engineer: More expensive than just throwing servers at it?

      Dev: Yes, absolutely...it'll take me 6 months to rewrite it.

      Engineer: What if I suggest we get some outsourced devs to take some of the weight off you, to speed things up?

      Dev: It's ok, I've fixed it.

      Engineer: Ah good. What was the fix?

      Dev: I optimised the queries...weird we didn't think of that earlier.

      Engineer: Yeah, weird...?

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