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Green datacentre goes live in Goonhilly to support AI ambitions of enterprises and academia

Almost a year to the day after it was announced, a renewably-powered datacentre has gone live at Goonhilly Earth Station, as the radio-communications site prepares to position itself as an AI innovation hub

The Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall wants to capitalise on the opening of its renewably-powered datacentre to position the site as a collaboration hub for enterprises and academic organisations focused on creating machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) services.

The facility has officially gone live today (Monday 15 July), almost a year to the day since the Goonhilly team first went public with its plans to build a datacentre at the 164-acre site in support of its owners’ ambitions to establish the site as a “world-leading space connectivity nexus and centre of innovation”.

At the time, the site was slated to go live during the second half of 2018, but this was pushed back in response to Amazon Web Services (AWS) rolling out its AWS Ground Stations initiative, which is geared towards cutting the time and cost involved with processing data generated by orbiting space satellites, and moving it to the cloud.

According to Chris Roberts, head of datacentre and cloud at Goonhilly, this brought to light a number of new use cases for the site, prompting the Goonhilly team to revise its original plans.

“After last summer’s announcement, the environment changed with the launch of AWS Ground Stations and the interest in new satellite applications, such as managing climate change and agritech, presenting a wider opportunity for us,” he said. “Instead of going ahead and being just another colo provider, we chose an alternative route where we built more value about AI and machine learning as a service.” 

The datacentre is reportedly equipped with a managed high-performance computing (HPC) platform that will give enterprises and academic organisations access to on-demand AI and machine learning compute resources.

These include GPU-based compute and storage resources that have been designed to accommodate both centralised and decentralised AI and machine learning applications that are typically used by organisations operating in the automotive, life sciences and aerospace markets.

“Through our strong partnerships with industry and academia, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of innovation,” said Goonhilly CEO Ian Jones. “Our new green datacentre is no exception. It is satisfying to open our doors to the many businesses and organisations with data-intensive applications that can benefit from this facility and the community we are creating.”

The facility is also making use of a Submer liquid immersion cooling system to support the HPC system, which will powered by on-site solar panels that are designed to fully meet the datacentre’s 500KW power requirements. These will be supplemented by local wind power sources in due course.

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Roberts said the facility’s use of renewable energy is part of a wider push to ensure that the way the site operates does not risk undermining the work of the organisations using the datacentre.

“There are people working on some clever algorithms to save our planet from climate change,” he said. “The irony is that these models require heavy processing power. Fortunately, new technology is helping, such as immersion cooling, which is 45-50% more efficient than air cooling, cuts electricity demand in half, and also allows us to use the exhaust heat elsewhere.”

The datacentre already has a number of anchor tenants lined up to use it, including big data analytics-as-a-service provider Zizo, which cited the facility’s environmental friendliness as a key factor in its decision to house its workloads there.

“When looking at datacentres to host our cloud-based service, only Goonhilly could address our critical issues, such as availability, resilience and affordability, but also offer the value-add of green energy and immersive cooling,” said Zizo chairman Peter Ruffley. “Customers are increasingly asking questions about the carbon footprint of compute power, which makes Goonhilly a great choice.”

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