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Underground data centres?

“Edge Computing Underground!”, a concept for tomorrow’s “smart cities”

A look at the world’s major modern cities with their ever-increasing building density clearly shows that space is in short supply and is becoming more and more expensive. There is also huge demand from data centre operators for the few plots of land still available for building, since ever greater volumes of data need to be processed as digitisation spreads through every sphere of life. Current estimates indicate that in 2025 the space required for metropolitan data centres will be roughly 20 to 80 times as high as today.

Many new applications such as 5G, IoT and autonomous driving rely on very fast data transmission and processing – and these volumes of data will grow exponentially in the years to come. A large proportion of this has to be processed close to the sources of the data, because the applications mentioned depend on extremely short latency times. While in 2017 the share of these data produced and processed decentrally, i.e. on site and not on the Cloud, amounted to approximately 10%, this will have risen to 50% by 2022. To meet this need there will have to be many new mini and micro data centres in tomorrow’s metropolitan “smart cities”.

New solutions will also have to be found for the steep increase in energy requirement. According to one forecast the demand for electrical energy for IT and communication technology (ITC) is accelerating steadily in this decade. In 2030 the data centres alone will consume around 21% of the available energy, 40% of which in turn will be accounted for by their cooling.

Space-saving and sustainable
The “Edge Computing Underground!” concept provides a space-saving, energy-efficient and cost-efficient solution to these challenges posed by energy and lack of space. Why should some of the new data centres not just be sited underground, say in basements, unused tunnels or even naturally occurring subterranean chambers?

The advantages of this solution are plain to see. Underground spaces are substantially cheaper than comparable areas above ground. Due to the special climatic conditions less energy is required for cooling – even without innovative geoenergy solutions. Another important advantage is that they provide greater protection from the forces of nature and terrorist attack.

New perspectives underground
The concept of “Edge Computing Underground!” was developed by the Swiss Center of Applied Underground Technologies (SCAUT) in collaboration with Datwyler IT Infra, underground project experts Amberg Engineering, geoenergy solution provider GEOEG and the “Smart Infrastructure” Division of Siemens Switzerland.

Together the joint venture is operating a demo data centre in the Hagerbach Test Gallery in Flums, Switzerland. This is used to make technical advances in terms of different environmental factors as well as for demonstration purposes. The forward-looking slogan of the joint project is “Below Ground Means New Perspective”.

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