sustainability and energy

In an era where artificial intelligence (AI) underpins critical advancements and consumes massive amounts of investment, the critical role data centers play in driving the economy is brought directly onto center stage.  The seemingly insatiable appetite for data centers, with all the processing, memory, storage and networking hardware that goes into them has led to an exponential rise in electricity consumption, spotlighting the urgent need for sustainable solutions.

Amidst these growing concerns around providing the power for the AI juggernaut, the introduction of computational storage solutions stands out as a promising innovation, aiming to help meet the surging demands on data center infrastructure with improved energy efficiency.

The Surge in Power Consumption

The relentless expansion of data centers, now pivotal to consumers of global electricity, has escalated concerns about the environmental footprint of our digital endeavors.  To put the power demand in perspective, a nuclear power plant produces approximately 1 gigawatt.  Per a recent report, Northern Virginia data centers alone already consume 3.4GW, which would need most of 4 nuclear reactors’ capacity to fulfill. Dominion Energy noted that data center power demand doubled from 2018 to 2022 and is set to double again from 2024 to 2028.  Other markets are seeing similar skyrocketing demand.

With power companies challenged to provide supply to meet the growing demand, data center expansion projects are being hit with delays.  Demand for new data center space and power is going unmet. In order to keep up with the demands from enterprises and hyperscalers, the data center operations teams and their suppliers have to find and deploy innovations in the underlying hardware performing the data processing, movement, and storage to improve the infrastructure’s efficiency, or “work per watt.”   Hardware and software optimizations to the data processing pipeline, ensuring data moves efficiently between storage, memory and processors, thereby reducing overall energy use, will be a key contributor to the efficiency improvements.

Enhancing Efficiency: Mitigating the Power Demand

Efficiency, or achieving more “work per watt of energy consumed,” has emerged as a paramount goal in addressing the energy demands of data gathering, storage, movement and processing.

Advancing to a new generation of processors and components is a double-edged sword.  The transition comes with improvements in performance per watt as a benefit from transitioning to a newer lithography.  However, this also comes with an increase in raw power and power density.

Innovations in cooling techniques, such as liquid cooling and immersion cooling, help both with dissipating the heat generated by the newer, more power-dense components and with improving Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio, the metric for assessing the efficiency of IT equipment relative to total power consumption, including cooling systems.  This is great combination of benefits. But, existing data centers cannot simply upgrade to immersion cooling systems without significant retrofitting – if at all – limiting the physical and economic viability of these systems for many operators.

Innovations in the distribution of work across components is also a key factor in meeting the efficiency goals.  Computational storage drives (CSDs) represent a leap forward in this effort. By integrating compute functions directly within storage devices, CSDs shift some processing tasks to the drives themselves. This architectural innovation not only boosts device-level performance, power efficiency, and sustainability but also enhances overall system efficiency, including for CPUs and GPUs. CSDs are designed to operate within the power envelopes of ordinary SSDs and comply with standard form factors.  As a result, CSDs have become an essential tool in achieving greater work per watt.

Enhancing Efficiency: Sustainability & Economic Synergies

In addition to being a critical means for meeting the demands for data processing, innovations in power efficiency contribute to data center sustainability and corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) objectives. The global push for environmental sustainability has positioned technologies like computational storage for widespread adoption.  These technologies not only contribute to reducing the power consumption per unit of work, but also contribute to reducing the amount of equipment needed to do the work – further mitigating the carbon footprint effects of the data economy.

The adoption of new technologies often faces hurdles, including cost and complexity. However, standards-based CSDs offer a pathway to sustainability by providing significant cost savings and performance enhancements without necessitating special expertise or extensive modifications to existing applications. By replacing conventional SSDs with CSDs, organizations can reduce their hardware footprint, electricity usage, and carbon emissions, offering a solution that supports global efforts to reduce data center energy consumption.

Preparing for a Sustainable Future in AI and Data Centers

Confronting the necessity for sustainable growth and navigating the path through AI’s energy challenge will rely not only on technological advancement but also in rethinking how we process and store data. By embracing computational storage, we can navigate the power consumption challenges facing AI infrastructure and data centers, ensuring a greener, more efficient world for future generations.

About JB Baker and ScaleFlux

JB Baker, Vice President of Products at ScaleFlux, brings over 20 years of experience and insight in data storage into the forefront of computational storage technology.  ScaleFlux is redefining the IT infrastructure landscape, championing innovation in the compute, memory, and storage pipeline to unlock unprecedented performance, efficiency, and scalability.

Follow JB on LinkedIn for more insights on data storage technologies and trends.