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by Keith Lofstrom
Large data centers are growing, and soon some will consume 50MW or more of electrical energy. The EPA estimated US data center power consumption in 2006 at 60 billion kilowatt hours, or 1.5% of total US power consumption, and predicts a doubling by 2011. Our efforts as programmers and technologists will continue this exponential growth. This will have huge environmental, social, and economic consequences unless we find alternative ways to power our digital economy.
Server sky is a proposal to use the capabilities of Oregon companies such as Solar World, Intel, and Triquint to build large dispersed arrays of ultralight solar powered server satellites and launch them into 6000km earth orbit, between the inner and outer Van Allen belts.
A 50 gram server-sat consists of a thinned 12 inch solar cell, with an efficient 2GIPs processor, terabit solid state disk, and microwave transmitter bonded to the back. Thousands of server-sats position themselves into dozens of dispersed three dimensional clouds (kilometers on a side) using light pressure for thrust and liquid-crystal shutters for trimtab steering. A server-sat array acts as a large phased array antenna, permitting it to steer thousands of communication beams at receiving stations and communities under its position in orbit, handing off communication and control to the server-sat clouds that follow it in orbit as it passes overhead.
A Russian Dnepr rocket could place a cylindrical stack of 50,000 server-sats into orbit for $15,000,000, or $300 per server-sat. If each server-sat displaces 100 watts of ground-based electrical generation, cooling, and power conversion, it will pay for itself in electrical savings alone in just a few years. A server-sat will cost more to manufacture than a white-box PC, but it will not need the cases, racks, cabling, power converters, land, buildings, power lines, and other materials needed to build a ground-based server farm. Total resource usage is reduced, and the total manufacturing cost may become less than traditional approaches. A server-sat array provides its own communication infrastructure and can reach the entire inhabited globe.
Since server-sat arrays operate outside the biosphere, the environmental impact of power generation and heat disposal is close to zero. Server-sat arrays can grow to practically unlimited size - space is big, and filled with unused solar energy. In time, new launch techniques, and solar cells made from lunar rock, can greatly reduce the environmental and economic costs of manufacturing and launch. There is room for 1 trillion server-sats within a 100 millisecond ping time distance from earth. Someday, quintillions of server-sats scattered around the solar system will perform cluster computation.
Of course, it will be built on open source technologies with best-of-breed security. Hopefully, OSbridge participants will have many ideas for protecting the system from criminals.
Earth can return to what it is good at - green and growing things - while space can be filled with gray and computing things.
17th–19th June 2009