Cloud Computing Shifting To Cooler Climates

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Patrick Jobin is a technical writer with Storagepipe Solutions, a provider of online backup services for data centers.

Patrick JobinPATRICK JOBIN
Storagepipe

Now that cloud computing is officially in the mainstream, we’re seeing a growing interest in data center energy consumption. Since electronic components are constantly becoming smaller and more powerful, data centers must now deal with the heat generated by having thousands of high-power processors tightly packed into a small space. And because cloud computing is based on virtualization, the overall utilization of this hardware is much higher than it would be in a “one box, one application” data center environment.

The problem of exponentially-growing power consumption becomes even more pronounced when you consider steadily dropping hardware prices. We’ll soon reach a point where the electricity required to power data centers is a greater financial burden than even the hardware and maintenance costs put together.

Increases in power consumption usually come in double-helpings, since the amount of energy required to cool an object is theoretically about the same as was required to heat it. So it would seem reasonable that – by creatively eliminating your data center cooling costs – you could dramatically cut overall power consumption.

Geography-Driven Site Selection

One obvious solution would be to build a new data center in an area that has cold climate. And this seems to be the direction that the cloud computing industry is headed.

  • The CLUMEQ silo in Quebec takes advantage of the region’s cold weather to good use. Heat generated by their data center is used to heat the school during colder months.
  • Google recently built a major $230,000,000 data center in Finland, hoping to leverage the region’s cold temperatures and lower power rates in order to lower their costs.
  • Facebook is also constructing a new data center near the Arctic Circle in Lulea, Sweden, due to the region’s cold weather.
  • Wired magazine recently published a piece about how NASA engineers are exploring the feasibility of constructing a supercomputing data center on the moon. And one of the reasons cited for this idea was the moon’s cold temperatures.

Clearly, this move towards colder regions will help dramatically cut power consumption costs associated with heating. But conventional power consumption will still continue to grow on an exponential scale as the demand for cloud computing and the efficiency of hardware continue to push forward.

Cold Climate and Large Supply of Energy

What’s required is an area which is both very cold and also offers an abundance of low-cost energy. And this seems to make Saskatchewan an ideal location. Canada is already famous for its incredibly cold weather and well-educated labor pool. But Canada also has regions which are rich in easily-exploitable free energy.

Swift Current, Saskatchewan is one of the windiest inhabited regions of Canada, with a population of only about 15,000. But what makes this town ideal – aside from its typically cold Canadian weather – is that it boasts average wind speeds of about 20km/h, which makes it one of the windiest places in Canada. Wind energy is a growing industry, and the cost of converting wind to electricity is constantly dropping thanks to new innovations.

And as you move northward in the province, you’ll certainly find other uninhabited areas which are both colder and consistently windier. When combined with its close proximity to the American market, this makes the province an ideal location to construct power-hungry cloud computing data center facilities.

While it may sound strange, the environmental characteristics of rural Saskatchewan may in fact make it an ideal candidate to become the future hub of technological innovation within the cloud computing and data center space.

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