Used only 30% of the time, data centers remain permanently powered to manage fluctuations in demand. Different experiments are trying to reduce their energy consumption. French researchers are working on a project aimed at optimizing uses, and therefore consumption.
THE digital services represent between 6% and 10% of global electricity consumption. Data centers are the keystone of these services. However, reducing their energy consumption is not a real priority (apart from for communication) for all the giants of the cloud.
They are focused on building new infrastructure to meet demand. Forecasts for the volume of digital data created or replicated worldwide could reach 181 ZB in 2025 (Statista study, 2021).
Despite this, various ambitious avenues are being studied to reduce the energy consumption of data centers such as the underwater project. Natick from Microsoft or that developed by the French companies, Atos and HDF Energy and which consists of using hydrogen fuel cells.
Although their principles are interesting, these projects still remain at the prototype stage and still pose unanswered questions for the moment. For Natick, the issues concern in particular the local warming of the water and the repercussions on the aquatic ecosystem.
Concerning hydrogen, it is a technology which is not yet sufficiently mature in terms of lifespan and efficiency compared to batteries. The hydrogen production yield is also low. However, this solution could make sense in the long term for renewable energy storage.
While waiting for these initiatives to scale up, another avenue is being studied by two researchers from LIRMM (Montpellier Computer Science, Robotics and Microelectronics Laboratory) with their project called Genesis.
After thinking about rethinking the architecture of supercomputers to make it more energy efficient, they were led to study data centers which have similar characteristics. With the same objective: to reduce their consumption.
“We found that a significant part of their consumption was attributable to peripheral components for IT functions. This led us to think about how to drastically reduce energy losses while using renewable energies”underlines Gilles Sassatelli, CNRS research director at LIRMM.
After filing a patent, the team developed several generations of prototypes, with the support of the Occitanie Region. Their latest prototype integrates components found in data centers.
Data close to users
To meet this challenge, the Genesis project relies on interconnected “modules”, each made up of photovoltaic panels coupled to a server, a storage unit and an electronic unit to manage data and energy flows between modules. Installed on the roof of the Polytech Montpellier school, a Genesis “system” prototype allows four modules to cooperate by exchanging energy data to carry out a given task.
“Thanks to Genesis’ ability to migrate data and energy between the distributed modules of a mini-datacenter, we studied a joint optimization allowing interesting energy savings. Compared to a classic mini-datacenter, not equipped with the lever of energy migration, Genesis can potentially reduce the energy from the electricity network by 20 to 27% for deployment during the summer period in the south of France. This study is based on calibrated modeling based on an experimental physical prototype.explains Abdoulaye Gamatié, CNRS research director at LIRMM.
With Genesis type mini-data centers, access to data would be faster (lower latency) and would reduce “data traffic on the global infrastructure. This is called edge computing, that is, near where data is produced and consumed, rather than centrally in a data center. conventional, often distant”explains Gilles Sassatelli.
Edge computing can also constitute a response to the latency problem imposed by certain fields of applications, some usingartificial intelligence. Indeed, we are talking more and more about EdgeAI (or AI at the edge). This involves the deployment of AI applications in devices located as close as possible to use. Edge computing can refer to any use of localized computing. This could be a store, a factory, a hospital, or devices around us, such as traffic lights, autonomous machines, and telephones.
The Genesis project would also strengthen data sovereignty by allowing the user, whether an individual or a community, to have a certain control over the data managed, while reducing energy consumption.
There are still some challenges to overcome. “The first concerns the development of a large-scale physical prototype to confirm our observations by finding. This requires a strong partnership, with appropriate financial resources. At the same time, we are looking at the life cycle analysis of Genesis hardware components, as it is essential to minimize their environmental impact. Finally, the third challenge concerns the uses of digital technology which we are considering in close collaboration with our partners. Our goal is to promote sustainable use of Genesis » explains Abdoulaye Gamatié.
Reducing the carbon footprint of digital cannot be entirely achieved through technology alone. It is also essential to take into account customs and practices in this effort.
Image credit of one: Manuel Geissinger – Pexels