Here at Grakn Labs we love technology. So much so that, this month, we’ve decided to share our favourite technology moments from 2016. Each weekday during December, we will open a window on our virtual advent calendar, and peek inside to recall some of the greatest innovation or news that the past year has brought us.
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Here at Grakn Labs, we are all about data and how to manage it. However, looking at it from a slightly different lens, how important is data center reliability? The answer would be very, especially if you were booked on one of 650 Delta flights earlier this year that was cancelled after a power outage at their Atlanta data center.
It’s easy to forget that behind all of the cloud computing and Instagram uploads there is a vast world of data infrastructure — yes, the physical behemoths and networks that actually host and transport our precious data. Data centers, submarine cables and the routing systems all play important roles in bringing the internet to your phone and computers.
So this post is going to be about the unsung heroes of the data world and some of the key things that happened in 2016 in the world of data infrastructure.
Sea creatures and undersea cables
Although you might rely on your wireless connection most of the time, those bits and bytes you create are still transferred through massive undersea cable, the same way it has been for the past two hundred years ago.
This year the new, FASTER (yes, that is the real name), undersea cable went live after being under construction since 2014. At 11,629 km, it has a 60TB/s capacity, spanning the Pacific Ocean from Oregon to Japan and Taiwan. Just to put it into perspective, that is equivalent to 40 million high-resolution video calls between the two continents at the same time!
Take a look at the following interactive map to try and figure out which of the 361 undersea cables you might be using as you look at this page.
The tech giants, like Google and Facebook, have been investing in digital infrastructure for years and these projects are never lacking in scale or ambition. From Project Loon, the floating balloons that are supposed to bring internet to remote communities, to their newly announced, joint, venture, an internet cable that from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Remarkably, the data cable (12,000 miles long!) will be even faster than FASTER at 120TB/s. This move to China, where both companies are blocked, is part of their larger efforts to become independent from preexisting networks and circumvent Chinese controlled infrastructure.
Of course, undersea cables continue to face threats of all types — international espionage, earthquakes, and from the most misunderstood sea-creature of all: the shark.
Cooling data centers requires a lot of energy.
DeepMind made the news this year for developing the AlphaGo system that beat world champion Lee Sedol in a $1 million Go match. Less lauded was another major breakthrough by the company: using machine learning, DeepMind reduced the amount of energy used by their Google data centers by 40 percent.
This next image shows the effect of the neural-network based algorithm on the power output of the DeepMind data center.
Just a few weeks ago, Google announced that starting in 2017, 100 percent of their data centers will be powered by renewable energy. There have been some remarkable advances in data center cooling technology this year. Facebook has long built their centers in the arctic to use the cold ambient air and their latest cooling tactic will require them to filter out salt from the ocean breeze.
This next tactic seems a little crazier. In 2013, Google made waves (literally) when it tested out a patent for a floating data center that would be powered by the ocean’s currents. They recently acquired Makani Power, a company developing wind turbines that attach to kites. The rumor is that Google will be combining these two technologies by attaching the kite-based wind turbines to propel their floating data centers.
Is it really Free?
Facebook’s Free Basics initiative generated a storm of controversy earlier this year. It is Facebook’s attempt to bring internet access to the rural communities of India by providing them access to a select number of applications of websites which, unsurprisingly, includes Facebook. In February, after protests by many different civil society groups and members of government, India’s telecom regulator officially rejected the initiative as it was seen as a violation of net neutrality and as Facebook’s attempt to exercise “control” over the rural masses.
Sillicon Valley legend and Facebook Board Member Marc Andreessen (who is on a mysterious “Twitter break”) added fuel to the fire with his incendiary tweets remarking that India should have accepted the Free Basics Initiative (and simultaneously blasted anti-colonial sentiment in the country). He has subsequently apologised for his slip up but in some ways the damage is done.
Here’s the tricky situation with data infrastructure. In an increasingly interconnected world, access to data and information becomes an incredibly sensitive topic and to decide who owns and controls the data infrastructure is a hot button issue. On the other hand, innovation surrounding how to better manage our data centers continue to evolve at a rapid pace. As we said before, it’s all about the infrastructure.
GRAKN.AI is an open-source knowledge graph data platform that brings knowledge ontologies and transactional data together to enable highly intelligent querying of data. Querying is performed through Graql, a declarative, knowledge-oriented graph query language for retrieving explicitly stored and implicitly derived information, and for performing graph analytics and automated reasoning. Grakn and Graql will help you effectively manage and harness large-scale graph data by allowing you to model it expressively, migrate it efficiently, and to draw insightful knowledge from your deep information network.
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