Solar-Powered Data Center the Keystone to Canada's Green IT Ambitions

Solar-Powered Data Center the Keystone to Canada's Green IT Ambitions

Although experts estimate that IT is responsible for just about 2 percent of the world's carbon footprint today, the rate at which technology is expanding into every corner of life means that figure will rise exponentially, reaching as high as 20 percent of some countries' footprints in the next 10 years.

To try and stem the tide of high-carbon computing, researchers in Canada have kicked off a two-year project to build a network of data centers that are powered entirely by renewable energy and can host even the largest websites and corporate computing platforms.

The project is called The Green Star Network and it is funded by CANARIE, the Canadian Advanced Network and Research for Industry and Education.

The project last month opened its first data center, a solar-powered facility in Calgary managed by Cybera. Each data center in the Green Star Network will act as a node, connected to the rest and therefore able to keep data available and websites running even if, for example, the sun isn't shining in Calgary but the wind is blowing in Ontario.

The GSN project is building five nodes across the country, all powered entirely by renewables, whether solar, wind, hydroelectric, or other renewables. Each node will act as a stand-alone data center, but will also be connected to the rest for fall-back purposes: If one facility runs out of power before it is able to recharge, the data will be sent along the network without interruption to another node.

The GSN is built on four principles:

1. Mobility – Services must be able to move between different nodes of the network.
2. Management – Each domain of nodes must have an internal management policy. Interdomain policies create a federated environment.
3. Measurements – Each node must be able to calculate & report carbon emissions for each hosted service.
4. Money – The network must support all forms of commercial activity, including carbon credits, and may create new opportunities not found in other networks.

Although the project is aiming small now, it is designed to be scalable to meet demand, and demand is expected to grow rapidly.

"Eventually it will happen, it may not be this year, it may be a couple years, but the U.S. will have to pass some sort of cost or tax on carbon, either through a direct carbon tax or through a cap-and-trade bill," Bill Arnaud, a green IT consultant and former chief researcher at CANARIE, told the Globe and Mail. "That, depending on which study you read and how it's administered, could triple the price of electricity if it's generated by coal. This is where Canada, given proximity to the U.S. market and its abundance of clean power, is in an ideal position to provide solutions for these companies."