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More data using less energy

Situated in an unassuming brick building on Björkskataleden in Luleå, ICE is the world’s leading open data centre for experimental research and innovation. Here, RISE and the Luleå University of Technology conduct advanced research into everything surrounding the data-centre sector.
“I usually say that our work covers everything between heaven and earth,” says Tor Björn Minde, section manager of RISE SICS North.

The result of regional and national investment, ICE opened its doors in 2016. Region Norrland has invested in the establishment and development of data centres, with Facebook’s Luleå facility being a prime example. RISE was in need of a facility in which to test the storage and analysis of large volumes of data. Since the facility became operational, activities have covered most data-centre-related operations, from data analysis to research on cooling and electrical supply for data centres, as well as autonomous operation and artificial intelligence. “For example, we have attempted to mimic desert termite hills by installing chimneys on the server hall to reduce energy consumption,” says Tor Björn Minde. “These chimneys use natural ventilation, a proven method in other environments, and we wanted to try the same thing here. We believe that with the help of the chimneys, we have the potential to halve the energy consumption of the fans – and that amounts to a lot of kilowatts.”

Energy efficiency in focus

Energy efficiency and cooling are very mush in focus at ICE. Among other things, they are working to identify more efficient means of conducting away the heat generated by the data centres servers. The solution may prove to be some form of fluid, such as water or oil.

“Fluid is considerable more efficient than air when it comes to transporting away heat,” explains Jon Summers, scientific leader at ICE. “And we really need to find ways to be more efficient; the amounts of data processed in data centres worldwide will only increase and with that, energy consumption. It may not be something we think about, but every tiny operation a server performs, every download of data, requires small amounts of energy. When you add all of this activity up, the energy consumed is enormous. The music video to “Gangnam Style” is one example; it was streamed over three billion times on YouTube. The amount of energy consumed by all of those streams is significantly greater than the annual consumption of the country of Burundi.”

The autonomous data centre

One area being explored at ICE is the autonomous data centre – one that controls, repairs and optimises itself. Algorithms are trained through a chain of datasets and analyses until they are able to control the data centre. It is also hoped that, with the help of artificial intelligence, this technique can be used not only to control the data centre itself but also to link to the electricity grid and heating and cooling networks.

To a large extent, work at ICE is intended to assist Swedish business with digitalisation and specifically to strengthen the Swedish data centre industry. Investment in building competence in the field of data analysis is a prerequisite for successful digitalisation.

“Companies can either run projects in collaboration with us, or use the facility for their own purposes,” says Tor Björn Minde. “Example projects might include testing a new type of cooling solution for plant or uploading large amounts of data to analyse a new service. We also offer a rental service for virtual or physical servers by the hour.

ICE also provide companies with access to metadata platform HopsFS, which in 2016 broke the world record for processing large amounts of data, delivering 16 times the performance of Hadoop.

A unique facility

As a data centre, ICE sticks out in a number of ways. Firstly, the facility is in Sweden; meaning that whatever data you might want to analyse or test need never leave the country. Secondly, ICE is equipped with a number of measurement instruments and sensors that make it possible to extract data from the facility in a way that just isn’t possible in a normal data centre.

The facility is primarily intended for European projects, companies and universities; however, partners from anywhere in the world are more than welcome to use ICE for tests and experiments. Tor Björn Minde sees three reasons why ICE is an obvious choice:

“We are the leading research institute for data centres in the Nordics – on our way to being the leader in Europe – and we have a unique facility offering unique expertise in the field of data centres. And then, we really enjoy working in the borderlands between academia and industry and helping Swedish companies to develop in our field.