Space: the final frontier (for data centres)

stars in night sky

Space: the final frontier (for data centres)

Once upon a time, the concept of satellites in space would have been limited to science fiction books.

The idea that data centres could be virtualised into the cloud? Similarly far-fetched.

Fast-forward to today, and these former pipedreams are staple parts of the technology landscape. That’s why there’s now serious discussion regarding data centres being located in the Earth’s orbit. Of course, there are plenty of hurdles to overcome and make that final quantum leap.

However, recent events have helped to fuel a sense of ‘anything’s possible’.

Elon Musk’s Space X project, with its reusable rockets, showed how to slash the cost of space launches. ‘The current price point isn’t low enough for Google to send up its server farms, but the economics are no doubt improving,’ explains Paul Mercina, Park Place Technologies VP of innovation.

Jack Pouchet, vice president of business development and energy initiatives at Emerson Network Power, previously said, ‘If you look at underserved markets, the population growth in Southeast Asia and Africa, and the cost of building a physical data centre – bringing in roads, power, people, and broadband connectivity could be in the half a billion dollar range. You could put something in space for $100 million.’

If these figure are correct and continue to fall, let’s explore what other elements are needed.

Cooling

Unless you happen to float past a star or sun, temperatures in space hover below -400 degrees Fahrenheit. So there’s no chance of systems overheating. And more chance of systems being able to run at higher speeds before overheating. However, the outside surfaces would soon degrade without being hardened. The question is how to make this treatment cost-effective, amid changing temperatures at different levels within the Earth’s atmosphere.

Robotics

As data centres transform, robotics is becoming a crucial part of IT services. This has the obvious advantage of less need for operatives to go in and fix hardware faults. Instead, automation and predictive maintenance means robotics-based repairs can be done remotely. What’s more, this helps eliminate human error and possible contaminations.

Predictable weather

The climate in space is far more predictable than on planet Earth. That means no storms to wipe out services, like those which hit Australia in 2016.

Laser-enabled connectivity

Steering Committee member Equinix has a partnership involving space-based connectivity. Linking with Laser Light Communications will establish a hybrid satellite-terrestrial network, capable of quickly and cost-effectively connecting any two points on the globe with 100Gbps service links. This offers great potential for regions currently under-served with wireless and fibre-optic connections.

Reach for the stars

Of course, there’s a long way to go. Not just in terms of distance, but also logistically.

It may be that for the short-term, staying within the Earth’s atmosphere may be more realistic. Indeed, that’s where some of the current big players could be focusing their efforts. For example, Amazon was recently in the news for patenting its ‘warehouse in the sky’. While this relates to drones delivering physical products, having Amazon Web Services infrastructure already in place could mean these warehouses are joined by data centres.

For now, it’s a case of watch this space (and watch this sky).

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