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COP26: Picture a “Patchwork Kilt” of Edge data centres built on recycled, open hardware

With a few notable exceptions, data centres are typically huge and sprawling warehouses; the great humming engines of a world for which compute and connectivity are now lifeblood. A new project revealed today by non-profit OpenUK reimagines them for a world desperately needing to tackle climate change, with its “Patchwork Kilt” collaboration proposing a network of “edge” data centres, powered by 5G, sited in previously derelict building stock and underpinned by a robust “circular economy” approach to hardware.

Patchwork Kilt is designed to combine open source hardware and software (with the aim to re-use, recycle and repurpose as much as possible) is the brainchild of not just OpenUK, but also ITRenew (US), the Open Compute Project (US), the Octopus Energy Centre for Net Zero (UK), the Scotland 5G Centre (UK), and the Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance (DE)

See also: “Through a glass, darkly?” Making sense of Data Centre sustainability

“What is the central and urgent mission for COP26?” asked John Laban, European Director at the Open Compute Project Foundation.

“Methinks it is to solve a planetary wide climate emergency and ithout doubt this is a complex systems problem, so that’s why all of the keynotes on day one at COP26 emphasised the need for worldwide open collaboration. The largest machine ever made by Homo Sapiens is the Internet and the most complex puzzle ever solved by Homo Sapiens is probably mapping the Human Genome and both of these were achieved by forming worldwide open collaborative commons. The millions of Open source technology hackers/makers working today can contribute hugely to the actions required to solve the climate emergency so why not use them and learn from them the art of complex systems collaboration to solve the climate emergency problem fast.”

Patchwork Kilt was donated by OpenUK today (November 11) to the Eclipse Foundation — a European non-profit that is home to over 350 open source projects — at a special event in Scotland as part of the COP26 conference. The Eclipse Foundation will host the project and support its ongoing development and expansion so that more contributors and adopters can take advantage of the project, the two said.

Its release comes the same day that the government’s Central Digital and Data Office published a requirement to make government technology sustainable, as pressure mounts on IT leaders to ensure emissions et al are being considered as well as broader ROI and enterprise need when making procurement decisions. That reminds government CIOs and other digital leads that their plans should “include how you aim to increase the sustainability of your technology project or programme by meeting the outcomes defined in the Greening Government ICT and Digital Services Strategy.”

It also urges leaders to consider 12 questions ahead of a project:

  1. What are your organisation’s sustainability goals?
  2. If the contract is more than £5 million per year, has the supplier committed to meet the government’s net zero target, and published a Carbon Reduction Plan?
  3. Can you include specific project objectives to meet your organisation’s sustainability goals?
  4. Have you identified potential benefits for meeting sustainability objectives, or risks that would stop you meeting those objectives?
  5. Does your organisation have processes for recording and reporting on sustainability goals? For example, reporting on the targets for greenhouse gases, waste and water.
  6. Do your project plans include user research to more clearly define requirements and reduce the chance of buying software and hardware you do not need?
  7. Do you have a process or plan for recording the impact of future upgrades to software and hardware?
  8. Are you able to recycle or repurpose any equipment you are replacing?
  9. Are you able to use existing datasets for your project?
  10. Are there any opportunities for minimising processing, transmission and storage?
  11. Can you put in place processes which reduce printing and paper trails in back office systems and user facing services?
  12. Have you assessed whether home working is a practical and more sustainable option for your project team?

Referring back to the OpenUK’s Patchwork Kilt project, CEO Amanda Brock noted: “Projects like this one can demonstrate a lasting impact on energy efficient computing and data centre design, based on making the most of circular economy design and open source hardware and software together. We think this is the first time this approach has been taken, and we are pleased that the Eclipse Foundation will support getting more users to take advantage of this work. We’re also pleased that the name – Patchwork Kilt – will be a reminder of the COP26 conference and the role that this conference will play in how companies and communities respond to the climate crisis.”

The data centre sector is a significant consumer of energy worldwide, and the market is expanding.

  • According to CBRE, 400 megawatts of new data centre space is expected to be supplied in 2021 in Europe, and the same again in 2022.
  • Previously, Anders Andrae of Huawei and Tomas Edler of Green Communication predicted that energy consumption in the data centre sector would be around 2,967 TeraWatt Hours (TWh) by 2030, with a potential worst case scenario of around 7,933 TWh.
  • This represents a rise to between 3% and 13% of global power consumption by 2030. Any improvements to energy efficiency across the sector can therefore cut large consumption of power, and ensure that energy used produces more results.
  • The donation was announced at Skypark Glasgow as part of the UN Climate Change Conference for 2021.

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