Bitcoin mining creates new opportunities in data centers
Tuesday, Jan 21st 2014

A considerable amount of users have jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon and become embroiled in the race to mine the nascent digital currency. This phenomenon recently extended to the data center, as users employ high-powered computing systems in the rush to Bitcoin gold.

User stories
Data Center Knowledge contributor Rich Miller recently reported on one user's story involving Bitcoin mining. What began as a small project on a desktop computer soon brought Emmanuel Abiodun into the world of data center Bitcoin mining. Abiodun, the founder and chief executive officer of a U.K.-based company that leases server capacity to other miners, first began is mining initiative on his home computer. Now he has harnessed the power of 160 stations in a server space in Iceland to expand his capabilities. Abiodun sees big things coming in the future as well, with plans to have 4,000 Bitcoin mining arrangements in two continents utilizing a total of 5 megawatts of data center space.

Abiodun told Miller that in order to have the proper resources for scalability, users seeking to mine Bitcoins need to look to the data center sector. He isn't the only one utilizing this strategy, as markets elsewhere are seeing Bitcoin mining-driven investment. 

Another case involved Nutanix, a server production company that realized that data center facilities could utilize their computing equipment during off hours to mine for Bitcoins. According to Business Insider, with some minor adjustments, servers can perform their regular computing duties during the day and maximize their abilities by Bitcoin mining at night. Data center operators can switch on the mining mechanisms before the leave for the day, which could generate approximately .03 Bitcoins a day.

Opportunities in the data center market
Currently, the global Bitcoin network consists of 150,000 petaflops per second of computing power, or 600 times the computing power of all supercomputers in the Top500 list combined, according to Miller. Organizations have utilized a range of strategies to gain mining traction, including traditional data center set ups and custom facilities for high density hardware.

"Practitioners of Bitcoin mining … are adopting more powerful hardware, pooling their efforts and seeking to slash their power bills," Miller said.

As more organizations utilize data center facilities for Bitcoin mining, two interconnected areas will become key: Power and cooling. As these activities are very energy intensive, they often require high density arrangements with many components. This not only requires more electricity, but drives up cooling requirements as well. Many organizations are selecting data center space in areas boasting cheap power utilities, such as Iceland and Washington. Additionally, this trend is creating rising interest in data center cooling technologies, including liquid cooling.

Miller used the example of a Bitcoin mining company ASICMiner, which operates a unique data center in Hong Kong. The set up features rows of computing equipment to fulfill the organization's computing needs, as well as a rack-mounted liquid cooling system. The technology utilizes 3M's Novec fluid to remove excess heat created by the Bitcoin server farm.

As data center organizations utilize their equipment for Bitcoin mining, they will need to ensure their cooling system is optimally functioning. A temperature monitoring system provides the granular oversight needed to ensure that servers continue mining and do not overheat. This type of technology is important in all arrangements, but especially in the schedule suggested by Nutanix in which data centers mine for Bitcoins at night. This creates boosted demands as computing equipment continually runs. However, when a temperature monitoring system is in place, operators can rest easy knowing their data center temperature is within the correct range and sensitive components do not overheat. Additionally, when the system includes a high temperature alarm, employees can be alerted if the server room temperature reaches an unsafe range.