Can you build a data centre on the moon?

April 3rd, 2014 Backbone Connect, Blog, Data Centre, Future

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Astronaut  on the moon building a data centre

With space to build new data centres at a premium throughout the country, we wonder where else you could build a new facility. How about on the moon?

As we’ve discussed previously on this blog, the space for companies to build new data centres in the UK is in short supply. New builds are always being planned, and some innovators have looked outside the box, transforming some rather unexpected locations into fully functioning data centre facilities. But what would happen if you thought not just outside the box, but outside the planet?

Data centre on the moon?

It sounds pretty crazy at first, but just think about all that unused space. With a diameter of 2,159.2 miles (3,475 km), the moon boasts an impressive surface area of 14.6 million square miles (38 million square kilometres). And as far as we know, it’s pretty much all unused. Just think how many data centres you could build on that…

For years, people have dreamed of colonising the moon. And with NASA recently announcing plans to create a new moon base  the possibilities seem ever closer. In fact, back in 2010 there were claims that Symantec were planning a lunar DC – although that turned out to be just an April Fool’s prank. But joking aside, why can’t we use some of that empty space for new data facilities?

How would it be built?

The technology already exists. With NASA’s plans for a lunar centre coming to fruition, clearly there is scope to create an airtight structure on the surface of the moon. Alternatively, pre-built data centres could be created on Earth and simply assembled on the moon – perhaps something like Sun Modular Datacentre, with a few lunar enhancements, of course.

How would we power it?

The main thing a data centre requires to be operational is, of course, power. So how would you generate enough power to run it? The most obvious answer is Solar Power. Large solar panels could be used to harness the power of the sun, converting and capturing energy in fuel cells, which could then be used to run the DC – a technology that NASA has been investigating for use in their planned lunar base.

What about cooling?

Another key requirement for data centres is an effective cooling system, to prevent the servers and equipment from overheating. Currently the main way to do this is through a water-cooling system, but would that be possible on the moon? Firstly the centre would need to be positioned on the dark side of the moon, to prevent overheating from the sun’s direct light. And though the moon is far from abundant in water, there are believed to be large pockets of frozen water just below the surface, which could be mined and utilised.

And what about connectivity?

Obviously the task of running fibre-optic cables up to the moon and back would be rather tricky, as well as silly. But with wireless and cloud-based data technology advancing at a rapid rate, connectivity could certainly be run through low-orbit satellites to route IP traffic from dishes on the moon back to Earth.

So, is it really possible?

Sadly, not yet. The costs involved in both getting the equipment to the moon, assembling the facility and then running daily maintenance would, of course, be too great at the moment. Never mind the bonus payments most DC managers would want for working so far from home.

And imagine the round trip costs every time your IT manager had to visit the lunar centre to upgrade or maintain the equipment. Until we have fully responsive remote access control systems for maintaining the racks, hopping on a space shuttle to the moon is not quite as simple as getting the Northern Line or the number 47 bus.

But one thing is for sure, data centre technology is always improving, and developments are growing at an exponential rate. So could we see a data centre on the moon? According to USC doctoral student Ouliang Chang, we should not only expect it, we should already be planning for it

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