The case for energy saving using FPGA architecture is compelling. If you look at most data centres, 99% of data centers are using Intel Xeon Processors which with software running on standard operating system, just continues to burn power. This could be cut by almost 85% when using FPGA architecture.
So how does this save the polar bears?
To answer this, we need to understand FPGA. And the data center consumption of global power.
What is FPGA architecture?
FPGA stands for Field Programmable Gate Array and is basically a semiconductor chip made up of many silicon layers which sits within its own circuit board. Its function, as in the case of NGCodec with their encoding applications, are hard wired into the chip as firmware. It means a separate software application running on a specific operating system is not required as the FPGA will take over much of the CPU and GPU functionality. But the upshot is is that FPGA boards do not require a host computer to operate, since they have their own input and output interface. This has many advantages in terms of efficiency and performance, but one major advantage is that is utilizes a lot less power. This alone has a huge environmental benefit.
Can using FPGA save the world?
“Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
To put things in prospective, cloud services are hugely reliant on data centers with many of the major internet and IT companies building their own massive infrastructures including Microsoft, Apple, Cisco and Amazon. Data centers in the USA alone use more than 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. This requires approximately 34 giant (500-megawatt) coal-powered plants. On a global scale, data centres used roughly 416 terawatts (4.16 x 1014 watts) or about 3% of the total world’s electricity which equates to approximately 40% of the entire electricity consumed by the United Kingdom in 2017. Shockingly this consumption is forecast to double every four years.
In terms of environmental impact, Anders Andrae, a Swedish researcher and Senior Expert Life Cycle Assessment at Huawei is quoted in Climate Change News that the ICT industry is posed to be responsible for up to 3.5% of global emissions by 2020, with this value potentially escalating to 14% by 2040. It is claimed that the data centre sector could be using 20% of all available electricity in the world by 2025 since data is being created at a more accelerated speed than ever before experienced.
Google estimates that a typical search using its search engine needs as much energy as illuminating a light for 17 seconds, and is responsible for emitting 0.2 grams of CO2. It may not sound much, but now think about how many searches you might make in a year and multiple that by the number of people using Google. And Google is data-lite!
Streaming video through the internet is what really increases the data count. IT company Cisco, claims that video will make up 82 percent of internet traffic by 2021, up from 73 percent in 2016. Around a third of internet traffic in North America is already dedicated to streaming Netflix services alone which is based on traditional software encoding.
With additional video services combined with the booming demand of IOT devices, demand will continue to rise dramatically and it is estimated that 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020. With the addition of driverless cars each with dozens of embedded sensors, and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin needing vast amounts of energy there will be no let up for energy demand for data centers.
The research from Andrae suggests that data centres will be one of the biggest energy consumers on the planet, beating many countries’ energy consumption levels. This could make data centres one of the biggest polluters in just seven years.
Of course the data center industry is not ignoring this and are promoting renewable green energy and starting to place data centers in cooler locations that don’t require a huge amount of air conditioning. It seems strange now that any of the world’s largest centers are in hot or temperate climates, where vast amounts of energy are used just to keep them from overheating.
Almost as important as switching data centers is for them to utilize low energy devices which will help in improving their energy efficiency. This is where FPGA technology can help, especially when deployed in cloud environments where resources can be shared with many disparate customers. This will reduce energy consumption caused by many companies having their own in-house data centers or machine rooms, a major benefit of cloud.
Greenpeace says given the very size of the internet business, and its exposure to criticism for its contribution to climate change means that they need to modify their stance from being part of the problem to being part of the solution, which the industry takes very seriously.
The hope is that they will bring many other giant corporations with them. “The leadership by major internet companies has been an important catalyst among a much broader range of corporations to adopt 100 percent renewable goals,” says Gary Cook, the lead author of a Greenpeace report. “Their actions send an important market signal.”
Gary Cook believes that many companies offering internet services will fully expect to see green labelling for digital sources as routine. The video industry has to move from being energy sappers helping in the demise of the polar ice caps to instead helping save the polar bears from extinction.
But apart from helping save polar bears, there is of course another major advantage of using FPGA. Efficiency. The NGCodec allows full H265 HEVC or VP9 encoding with low bit rates at around 1MB/sec with extremely low latency. But that aside let’s just do our bit to save the planet!