Monday, 16th September 2019
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In the twilight of Moore’s Law, computing looks for a new dawn

By Darren Watkins, managing director of VIRTUS Data Centres.

Technology has developed at breakneck pace for many years and expectations are that it will continue to improve forever.We only need to look at Apple’s iPhone to know that a new, improved version will be released and consumed almost annually.But the rate of improvement could plateau with the end of Moore’s Law.If the speed of processing is to continue to develop (especially in today’s digital world of Big Data)other areas of computing need to be looked if it is to progress and improve.

Drawing on vast numbers of crunching resources in the cloud is one of the main ways that computing can carry on advancing.By sharing computer capacity across millions of networked computers, processing capability improves.It’s the interconnectedness, which enables businesses to be more effective and innovate.

So how does this relate to Moore’s Law?The cloud has to live somewhere and the data centre is its home.It provides a ‘server farm’ in a super-cooled environment where all the data-crunching can be done remotely.

Cloud has been one of the most talked about subjects in the tech industry for over 10 years, and it has taken that long to become mainstream.But now it is, the take up is meteoric.For a long time, there was an oversupply of data centre capacity in the market, but space will quickly be consumed if data centre companies don’t continue to build.There are 25 billion connected devices globally and that will reach 50 billion by 2020.Each device creates big data and almost 90 per cent of all data in human history has been generated in the past two years.And it has to be stored somewhere.

Because of this, capacity needs have increased exponentially and companies don’t buy what they used to.A few years ago the average take up was a couple of hundred kW, today businesses are buying multiple megawatts in one go.And there aren’t many data centre providers who can deliver that kind of space.

Moore’s Law is about the doubling of processing power every two years.If you look at the consumption of cloud to satisfy the future of computing, Moore’s Law still applies at the data centre level.If we think of a data centre as a silicon chip (because it effectively provides processing power), capacity will need to continue to double year on year.VIRTUS is a good example.It has gone from 6MW when it had one site, to 40MW and three sites in 18 months.In these terms, VIRTUS will need 80MW or more of data centre capacity in a further 18 months.Data centre organisations need to work very closely with cloud providers to understand their prolific growth rates if they are to be able to meet the demands of the future of computing.

But how else can data centre providers prepare for the potential end of Moore’s Law for microprocessors?In the UK we don’t have an abundance of real estate on which to build data centres, so we need to look to new technologies if we are to improve computing capacity.Increasing speed and the availability of power will be major factors.

Photonics is already being looked at to increase processing speed, albeit at the early stages of research.Some labs, for example, Intel in Texas, are testing photonics which uses light so data is processed more quickly with no resistant losses.This stops heat being generated and enables processing at the speed of light, reducing the need for so many processors because they are much quicker.This will further enable Moore’s Law to increase processing capabilities, thus starting the cycle again.

For any computer to work, it needs power, and data centres need lots of it.If Moore’s Law applies to data centres, so it will apply to power.The danger is that the UK could face a power shortage in the future because of the rate of consumption and the time it takes to build power plants.The most innovative data centre providers are mitigating this potential risk by future-proofing their energy requirements.At VIRTUS, this is an area we are already focused on.We are investing time and resource to look into self-generation of power by standard means and alternatives such as nuclear batteries.By looking ahead, we can continue to aid the future of computing.

So, Moore’s Law may be in its twilight years in terms of microprocessors, but it is only moving along the supply chain and the future of computing will continue to improve.The new dawn is a tremendous opportunity for innovation – it’s about being clever rather than just throwing more processors at the problem.

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