Data centre

Growth in data traffic 'could consume the power grid'

Plans to increase broadband availability could force public and private sector ICT to consume unsustainable amounts of energy.

Speaking at the Powering the Cloud conference in Frankfurt, Dr Ian Bitterlin, CTO of Ark Continuity, warned that national governments and the EU “have no conception of what their bandwidth ambitions – such as the UK government’s Digital Britain target of providing everyone with a minimum of 2Mbit/s – will do for power consumption.”

He added: “The problem with data growth now is that it’s all [being driven by] social networking - and that cannot easily be reduced.

Emerging 4G services will exacerbate that too – give a teenager a smartphone with a camera and 4G, and they will generate even more content.”

Bitterlin added that this content won’t just stay on the phone – it will need cloud storage, and of course it will generate yet more network traffic as friends and others download it.

He also warned that the impending ‘data deluge’ is “outstripping both Moore’s Law and the rate of improvement in energy efficiency”, and has done for several years.

The result, he predicted, is that although network, storage and server technologies are “growing more powerful and less power-hungry, they are not doing so fast enough to keep up”.

The problem is especially acute in networking.

Already, a full 2TB hard drive sent across the Atlantic by courier will have a lower carbon footprint and arrive faster than 2TB sent via the Internet, he claimed.

“Twenty homes can now generate more traffic than was carried by the entire Internet backbone in 1995,” Bitterlin said.

“For example, Japan is on an exponential data growth curve, mainly driven by HDTV. It is not feasible to scale for that with current technology.”

Without a sudden jump in power efficiency, this could result in data centres and the Internet consuming an ever greater proportion of world electricity generating capacity.

“Could we see 10 per cent of grid capacity consumed by ICT in four to six years? One hundred per cent in under 10 years? The result is unsustainable with any start-value,” he concluded.

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