AI is the prerequisite for any data-first company in the AI and data industrialisation era. The benefits of AI are numerous; it helps companies automate processes, streamline operations, and make the right decisions. However, AI models have a dark side to them. Experts have been warning about the carbon footprint of artificial intelligence. In a study published last year, researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found out that training several common large AI can emit more than 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent — nearly five times the lifetime emissions of the average car. Having this AI consequence on the environment in mind, how can data scientists and data analysts make sure their AI models don’t hurt the environment, without sacrificing performance? The state-of-the-art solution for this challenge is a data center, which offers an environmentally friendly way of utilising the waste heat by redeploying it back into the heating grid.
Cloud&Heat collaborated with Vattenfall on the construction and operation of a new data center in Jordbro Stockholm, which will enable data scientists to meet their business goals in an environmentally-friendly way while re-deploying the CO2-free waste heat. We sat down with Christian Kallenbach, Head of Sales – Datacenter Infrastructures at Cloud&Heat Technologies, before his Technology in Practice session at the Data Innovation Summit, to learn more about this data center that delivers environmentally friendly cloud computing services to Swedish and Nordic organisations.
Hyperight: Hi Christian, we are extremely happy to have Cloud&Heat and Vattenfall as partners at the 5th edition of the Data Innovation Summit. For starters, could you tell us a bit about yourself and Cloud&Heat’s role in this collaboration?
Christian Kallenbach: First of all, thank you for inviting me! I am the Head of Sales for Datacenter Infrastructure at Cloud&Heat and I have been working for over 20 years in the data center market for suppliers as well as data center companies. At Cloud&Heat we’re passionate about delivering the most energy-efficient data center, together with state-of-the-art software solutions, to our customers. In collaboration with Vattenfall, we have contributed expertise in the planning, construction and operation of a data center in Stockholm – housed in two specially fitted, water-cooled data center containers which are co-located with a Vattenfall powerplant in Jordbro. By collecting and re-deploying waste heat according to the CHC principle (Combined Heat and Compute), our containers enable highly sustainable, resource-efficient data center operations. To further secure the infrastructure against unauthorized access, the cloud service is equipped with additional security mechanisms from Secustack GmbH.
Hyperight: Existing Vattenfall infrastructure will be used by Cloud&Heat to offer environmentally friendly cloud computing services to Swedish and Nordic organisations. Could you tell us a bit more about this initiative? How was the idea born?
Christian Kallenbach: Vattenfall and many other utilities are thinking about new business models and ways to position themselves in the next years as it relates to digital transformation as well as sustainability and CO2 neutrality in the energy sector. The starting point for our discussion was based on the potential to enter a new business segment, generating CO2-free heat with data centers that delivered cloud computing to new and existing customers. As these discussions deepened, we quickly realised that Vattenfall’s existing infrastructure enabled major security and cost advantages that can be passed on to cloud customers.
Hyperight: AI is a growing topic and it shows no signs of stopping. How does your project relate to the needs of data scientists in Swedish Industry and Academia on their AI journeys?
Christian Kallenbach: Well, AI models eat a lot of compute and as MIT research shows, they themselves can cause significant CO2 emissions. This is something that no data science team feels good about. Companies with the best AI models and resulting products are most likely to win larger market share, and so there is however huge pressure on data science teams to crunch increasingly large data sets. Our solution aims to relieve Data Scientists of this burden, enabling them to meet their business goals without unnecessarily hurting the environment – or developing a guilty conscious along the way. Firstly, our containers enable the use of high-density HPC /AI focused hardware which is specially designed to crunch the data. Secondly, excess heat is not pumped into the air, but is instead re-deployed into district heating grids that heat family homes and local businesses. On top of this, data never leaves Sweden, which we understand is very important for many organisations. Finally, since we understand that capital expenditure and investments are often hurdles that make it hard for data science teams to get access to the best possible IT hardware, we have decided to offer “pay as you go” options which eliminate the need for capital expenditure.
Hyperight: Vattenfall is a European leader in the generation and delivery of renewable energy. But as we all know, energy efficiency in data centers is not just about renewable energy sources. What for example, will you do with the waste heat coming from your data center?
Christian Kallenbach: As mentioned, our Stockholm data center is connected to building and district heating systems which use the heat for heating homes and industrial buildings. Another data center of ours is connected to a hotel which uses the heat for heating in winter, and for showering in summer times. Over the last years, we have also learned that heat can not only be used for heating, but that it can bring value to customers also in hotter regions like the UAE or parts of Asia. Here we use the heat for absorption cooling which actually cools down buildings, or for water desalination which is a major power consumer in these dryer regions.
Hyperight: How does the CHC (Combined Heat and Compute) concept contribute to Vattenfall’s mission of providing fossil-free living within one generation?
Christian Kallenbach: The CHC concept allows the utilization of the server’s waste heat in a very efficient way up to a point where the waste heat can even replace fuel for heat generation. The need for computing resources is growing exponentially and by employing the CHC concept, so will the availability of CO2 free heat that Vattenfall can re-deploy. By tapping into Vattenfall’s existing infrastructure, it is our shared ambition to enable fossil-free operations for our customers and partners – especially those with compute-hungry AI-focused business needs. This, in turn, brings Vattenfall one step closer to realizing their environmental ambitions as mandated by their ultimate owners (the people of Sweden) of “Fossil-free living within one generation”.