Chinese Bitcoin Firm Says It’s Building a 135 MW Powerhouse

The leader of a kind of virtual mutual fund for online currency is not only manufacturing its own servers, but now says it’s building a massive data center to house and power them all.

Scott Fulton III, Contributor

November 7, 2016

4 Min Read
Chinese Bitcoin Firm Says It’s Building a 135 MW Powerhouse

A data center facility that draws close to 140 megawatts of power had better be housing some very important tenants with some world-shaking projects.  In an announcement Saturday, a company called Bitmain Technologies Ltd. said, if the weather holds out, it could complete construction on a colossal (judging from the pictures), 45-building solar-powered data center complex in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region.

Its “major application,” according to the announcement, will be the “mining” of Bitcoin’s virtual currency — a process originally designed to be distributed among Bitcoin stakeholders worldwide through a P2P network.  The mining process involves computing the parameters necessary to achieve the proper encryption of Bitcoin’s virtual monetary transactions, since the encryption method for producing its blockchain is non-algorithmic.

Not only will this data center’s primary application be self-serving, but much — if not all — of its hardware will be dedicated to the task.  Bitmain is the manufacturer of a custom form-factor line of Bitcoin mining-dedicated hardware components called Antminer.  Its “home version,” which looks like an outdoor mosquito trap laid on its side and plugged into a 220V power supply using exposed wiring, is said to deliver 2600W of peak power output.  Bitmain says each Antminer consumes 845W, making it into one hungry little beast.

Assuming some form of Antminer is used to power this mining operation, we used an ancient mining device called a “calculator” to perform some math, in an effort to fill in the details Bitmain omitted.

A 135 MW complex, operating at full capacity, would provide enough power to fuel 159,763 Antminers.  With 45 buildings in the complex (which, from the 3D models, looks somewhat like a solar-powered POW camp), that’s about 3,550 Antminers per building.

Each stripped-down Antminer’s awkward 5U form factor should still be enough to seat 8 units in a tray that’s 5U tall.  You could conceivably pack 64 Antminers into one rack, and leave room for a 2U power supply. . . if a standard 2U supply could feed them all.  A full-size 2U UPS probably delivers no more than 3,200W, for a ratio of one UPS for every three Antminers.

Assuming Bitmain has done its best to optimize each Antminer’s power consumption, it might be able to squeeze eight Ants into a kind of “module.”  A full 5U of that module would house the compute units, and you’d need 4U for about 6,400W of power.  Each module being 9U tall, you could fit five of them into a 45U rack.

With 3,550 Antminers to distribute throughout each building at 40 per rack, that gives you 89 racks per building.  For racks alone, you’d need 2,670 square feet per building, or 120,150 square feet total.  That’s not counting the additional space consumption for power distribution, so for safety, let’s round it up to 135,000 square feet.  That would give you a power density of about 1 kW/sq. ft.

Compare this against the real world where money is made of cash.  Switch Communications’ state-of-the-art, 407,000 square foot SuperNAP facility in Las Vegas boasts the capability to deliver power densities of 1.5 kW/sq. ft.  So Bitmain’s design, even as power hungry as an Antminer is, may be well within reason.

SuperNAP’s tenant is online auction giant eBay.  Bitmain’s sole tenant — or so it would appear, for now — is itself.

A June 2016 New York Times article by journalist Nathaniel Popper introduced us to Jihan Wu, the founder of Bitmain.  In a virtual currency space whose value is determined in large measure by how many individuals may be “mining” for value (guessing the right parameters for encryption functions for their own transactions), Wu capitalized by creating a system called Antpool.  Think of it like a mutual fund in the virtual space, where investors pool their resources, and in so doing pool their mining capacities.

Now you get an idea what the Xinjiang complex seeks to become: a kind of super-drill for seeking the ultimate solutions as expeditiously as possible.  The more answers they find, the more virtual currency is produced as their reward.

Popper’s story painted a picture of the Bitcoin ecosystem as a whole has having been suddenly driven away from diversity and wide distribution, and toward consolidation around a handful of China-based companies.  Photographs depicted what appear to be the husks of abandoned barns and factory houses having been commandeered for use as server farms.

Which would make Bitmain’s ambitious plans, at least from one angle, look almost similar to progress.

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About the Author(s)

Scott Fulton III


Scott M. Fulton, III is a 39-year veteran technology journalist, author, analyst, and content strategist, the latter of which means he thought almost too carefully about the order in which those roles should appear. Decisions like these, he’ll tell you, should be data-driven. His work has appeared in The New Stack since 2014, and in various receptacles and bins since the 1980s.

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