At this year's Mobile World Congress, discussions around power consumption and sustainability took center stage as the industry grapples with the escalating energy costs and unprecedented data usage.
Notably, the electronics supply chain, along with the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, plays a vital role in facilitating a circular economy by enabling cutting-edge technologies and infrastructure.
At present, the ICT sector is responsible for 7 percent of the world's total electricity consumption. However, numerous estimates indicate that data traffic will continue to grow exponentially, which could potentially result in the ICT sector contributing up to 14 percent of global emissions by 2040. Moreover, the global supply chain, which comprises manufacturing, facilities, and logistics, not only consumes a significant amount of electricity but also relies heavily on fossil fuels.
According to a report by EY last year, data centers are witnessing a significant surge in traffic. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a heightened demand for digital transmission of information, and the adoption of hybrid work models, along with unified communication solutions, is driving a substantial increase in data traffic through the cloud.
“Data centers are energy-intensive, using an estimated 200 terawatt-hours (TWh) each year, more than the national energy consumption of Iran,” according to the EY paper. “The power requirements for emerging technologies are high and growing. […] Bitcoin produces 36.9 megatons of CO2 annually, comparable with New Zealand.
“Training artificial intelligence (AI) models to do natural language processing (NLP) can produce the carbon dioxide equivalent of five times the lifetime emissions of an average American car, or equivalent to 300 round-trip flights between San Francisco and New York.[….] And 5G technology is estimated to add between 2.7 and 6.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year by 2030,” said the report.
The situation is beginning to shift. The ongoing energy crisis has resulted in a record high price for electricity and other energy sources, the likes of which have not been seen in the last century. Consequently, operational expenses for all players in the industry are surging, and as a result, the need to adopt sustainable practices and reduce power consumption is no longer just an idealistic goal but a crucial business imperative.
Cloud servers based on Intel & AMD face increasing competition
Some years back, a number of prominent cloud providers and hyperscalers began to substitute their 86x-based servers with Arm-based alternatives. Arm's RISC architecture, which is commonly utilized in mobile devices, delivers significant energy savings and, in numerous instances, improved performance.
Unlike conventional x86 processors, Arm processors are specifically designed to minimize power consumption, making them an ideal choice for energy-efficient data centers.
Ever since Arm introduced its V9 architecture, which pledged a performance boost of over 30% for the forthcoming two generations of mobile and infrastructure, the company has been diligently developing cutting-edge technologies to optimize the frequency, bandwidth, cache size, and memory latency of its CPUs for maximum performance. Arm is also introducing a range of new features designed to enhance its AI capabilities, such as expanded hardware support for AI across its full suite of CPUs, GPUs, and NPUs.
According to Omdia, Arm's share of the data center market increased to 7.1% in Q2 2022, a substantial rise from less than 1% in 2019, 2.2% in 2020, and 5.4% at the close of 2021. Although these numbers may seem modest compared to the dominance of x86-based systems, the trend is significant and predicted to persist.
At the recent Mobile World Congress, EPSNews had the opportunity to speak with Mohamed Awad, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Infrastructure at Arm, who provided us with insights into the current state of the industry and why Arm has become the favored architecture for new data centers.
“The real reason why Arm is starting to see significant success in this space is that we offer something that other architectures don’t necessarily offer you, which is, we offer the ability to take a technology, whether it’s through our implementation IP or our compute subsystems, and custom tailor it to every use case. Every one of the major hyperscalers is now deploying Arm-based servers,” said Awad.
“Four years ago, there were under a million 5G connections. Today there are over a billion. Each one of those has ten times the bandwidth that a 4G connection has. You look at four years ago, and we were in a world that had what we call a data sphere. All of the data collected was about 30, 35 zettabytes. A zettabyte is a billion terabytes. So that’s a lot of data. Today we’re at over 120 zettabytes, so four times as much.[…] On the other side of the coin, we’ve got these other pressures. We’ve got sustainability and energy challenges which are just getting more difficult. Four years ago, we didn’t have a war in Europe, and we didn’t have energy crises all around the planet. Everyone would suggest that [Environmental, Social, and Governance] ESG and sustainability are now top of mind for many organizations."
Arm’s Mohamed Awad
Arm is collaborating with several hyperscalers to develop new processors that can enhance processing performance and bandwidth while simultaneously reducing power consumption. One example cited by Awad is the work of Amazon AWS and its Graviton processors. The Graviton 2, which was introduced in December 2019, provides up to a 40% increase in price/performance compared to the M5, C5, and R5 instances of the same generation, as well as an average of 72% decrease in power consumption.
“These are servers built around a SoC which they’ve developed based on our Neoverse implementation course. Now they can offer compute instances that are 30 percent to 40 percent cheaper than those based on other architectures. And that isn’t just because of the silicon cost. It’s because of the overall architecture they can put in place at a server level and the power they can save across their entire data center.”
“At the end of the day, infrastructure is a data problem. And when I say infrastructure, it’s like with a capital ‘I’. It’s more than just the infrastructure that I just described. It is the infrastructure that spans the largest supercomputers in the world, all the way down to the tiniest sensor. It’s about how we capture data at that tiny sensor, process it in the most efficient way possible, move it when needed to a higher order compute node and do that in the best possible way?”
Organizations need to consider power efficiency as a top priority for IT
The urgency to enhance the sustainability of IT infrastructure is higher than ever before. The explosive expansion of data centers and the escalating volume of data transmitted through wireless networks have resulted in a substantial surge in energy consumption and corresponding emissions of greenhouse gases.
The significant rise in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the ever-increasing data centers and wireless networks has resulted in higher costs for businesses and contributes to climate change. To address this pressing issue, it is essential to adopt sustainable practices in IT infrastructure. This can involve using more energy-efficient computing systems, embracing renewable energy sources, and adopting sustainable computing practices.
According to a Bloomberg report, major technology companies like Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, and Microsoft, who have made commitments to decarbonize their supply chains, are not enforcing those goals with their suppliers. These companies' influence extends from chip manufacturing to the delivery of products to end-users. Audits and other accountability measures could play a significant role in enhancing global sustainability initiatives.