Champion of Clean

WADE Canada values our industry's trailblazers. Get to know Cybera, August's Champion of Clean.

WADE Canada spoke with Robin Winsor, President and CEO of Cybera

Q.   What are data centers?

A.  Data centers house the computing and communication equipment necessary to transmit, store and secure digital information. All of a business' computer operations (email, Internet, and applications) are controlled within the data center.

Q. Where are they ideally located?

A. Data centers need to be kept cool, to keep from overheating. This usually requires 24 hours/day of powerful air conditioning. They need access to a reliable power and networking source. And they need to be in a physically neutral environment that is not prone to frequent vibrations or damage of any kind. The “sweet spot” on earth lies at 50-55 degrees latitude on either side of the equator. In the northern hemisphere, if you move south, more energy is required for cooling, too north and it’s too cold to operate efficiently. Alberta and much of Canada lie at this latitude, so there is potential for future development.

Q. Why is the footprint of interest?

A. The energy requirements of data centers are intense. The Information and Communication Technology industry accounts for around two per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and these emissions are expected to double by 2020 (surpassing the carbon emissions of the world's airplanes).

Q. Given current and anticipated technological advancements, what does the future data center look like?

A. Future data centers will need to be smaller, more efficient, and less energy-intensive. This will mean a rise in cloud computing, where a small number of data centers will host most of the world's servers and online resources. There will be more data centers that run on renewable energy, as is being investigated by the GreenStar project (Cybera manages the Calgary data center for this project and it runs on solar power). There is also the possibility of moving more data centers to colder climates (like northern Quebec or Iceland), where less air conditioning would be required to keep them running at an ideal temperature.

Q. How does this impact our energy economy?

A. By reducing the energy requirements of data centers, businesses and individuals stand to make significant cost savings, and everyone gains from an industry with a reduced impact on the environment.

Q. Tell us a little bit more about the GreenStar Project, what are you hoping to achieve?

A.The GreenStar Network aims to study the viability of ICT systems that run on renewable energy sources. To achieve this, the program has sponsored five computer centre nodes supporting a cloud computing network across Canada that rely on solar rays, wind or water sources.

Cybera is running a pilot project, in cooperation with the GreenStar Network (GSN) to put a small data center, a small solar powered “node” if you will, which is basically a little data center in a box that serves as a demonstration, a pilot technology.  It runs so that when the sun comes up and it starts receiving power, it can communicate with other centers which may be losing power, whether it is sun or wind, allowing for jobs to move seamlessly according to power availability.  Ideally you could have these kinds of data center operations located around the world, so that no matter where the sun shines, or wind blows, you can still run your operations, thus reducing the footprint.

Trying to measure and quantify the energy savings is of interest, and we are working with the Research Center at the University of Calgary to know how effective that was; how much carbon exactly was saved by not powering up from the grid, versus solar.

What are the standards in this area?

Standards in this area are very new, about a year old now. But we can now quantify and measure the carbon footprint of equipment in a data center, do calculations in a standard way, and these have become international standards under ISO. Thus we can determine exactly how efficiently the equipment is being used. The efficiency of power usage or the Power Utilization Efficiency (PUE) is the ratio of total amount of power used by a data center to the power delivered to computing equipment, that is, how much of the power is actually used by the computing equipment, versus that for cooling and other overhead. A PUE of less than 1.1 is considered excellent. It means that hardly any power is being wasted.  Older inefficient centers can run as high as a PUE of 3 or more.

So when it comes to data centers, what should businesses know?

So if, for example, a large corporation was considering moving their in-house data, when selecting a data center they can ask, what is your PUE? How efficiently are you using the power that can be consumed to run our computers?

About Cybera

Cybera is a collective made up of Alberta’s universities and research organizations, school districts, not-for-profit associations, and private sector companies in the networking and computing world. They share an interest in Alberta’s innovation ecosystem – ranging from youth education, to university research, to applied pilots in the private sector, either in start-ups or existing companies.

To know more about Cybera, please visit

"Did you know large corporations like Google and Facebook are using creative and innovative ways to increase their data center efficiency?"

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