Jonas Caino considers the idea of applying different thinking to our data centres to get the best out of them.

Since 2009, cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin and ethereum, have been growing like wild fire and are fast becoming a medium for exchange as well as an object of speculatory trading all over the world. The attraction seems to be the perceived intrinsic value cryptocurrencies have.

Unlike fiat currency, where the value is not in the backing of a gold reserve (thank you President Nixon) but simply in the confidence the users have in it as the defacto medium of exchange, cryptocurrencies are rare and controlled through ‘mining’ by creating ‘blocks’ of validated transactions on the internet and solving complex mathematical puzzles – ‘hashing’ and being rewarded in the form of ‘coins’.

It is these activities, as well as the ease of payments over the internet and transparency, that gives cryptocurrencies their inherent value. So, all of a sudden, a new industry of miners has arisen. Unlike American oil prospectors of the late 1800s, rather than getting their hands dirty it’s now machines that do all the work. These machines are swiftly moving from the suburban bedrooms of millennials and into data centres, but not the data centres we all know and are used to.

Out of necessity arises a different philosophy on data centre design. What are the technical drivers of cryptocurrency mining and what can we all learn from this new approach to physical infrastructure?

Cheap is no longer a dirty word

The money is in the ‘coins’ not KRYPTON the mining so, cheap definitely goes. Inexpensive real estate means no one cares where the data centre is located – former chicken farms in Sweden, shipping containers in Chicago, a garage in rural France – just so long as it’s low cost, accessible, secure and in many cases, mobile. The data centre needs to run economically, too. Power, be it grid or alternative, needs to be really cheap.

What about cooling, something that takes up a significant portion of the operational expenditure of most data centres? Solution: open the windows! It can be as basic as that with many cryptomining data centres. Yes, some miners do go for fully liquid immersion cooling at the machine and rack level, but depending on the location, anything goes as long as it’s cheap.

Downtime is also no longer a dirty word

No redundancy is needed in these data centres. The machines are there to number crunch and if something happens to the physical infrastructure, the number crunching stops, the problem is looked at, fixed, everything restarts and the number crunching continues. If there is an issue with a machine it is simply swapped out and replaced. No big deal. Downtime is no longer the unpleasant experience it once was.

It’s all in the workload

The key to success with cryptomining is the focus on single workload and application. It paves the way to be specific with the IT hardware and keep the simplicity of the supporting physical infrastructure in place. Nothing fancy, just get the machines number crunching and everything will be alright.

The Krypton Factor

How many people reading this article will remember the television game show in the 1980s and 1990s called The Krypton Factor? This was a game show where contestants used mental (and somewhat physical) agility to solve varied and complex problems.

What amazed me about the tasks was how the contestants had to use different skills to solve varying problems, and solve them well. Should we be using the same philosophy when it comes to dealing with data? After all, all data isn’t all the same so why manage it all in the same way?

This begs the question: Why should a data centre be all things to all applications? Granted, there are workloads that are sensitive and downtime will always be a dirty word. But there are also workloads that are just there to ‘mine’ for the business and nothing else – in those situations, a cryptomining approach may be worth considering.

It may be time for CIOs to look deeper at their IT infrastructure needs and classify workloads and applications to design multi-data centre solutions to serve different workloads… just like in The Krypton Factor.


This post originated at Data Centre Management magazine, from the same publisher as The Stack. Click here to find out more about the UK’s most important industry publication for the data centre space.