Updated: Apr 25, 2022
What does that mean? That depends on whether we are mining cryptocurrency or performing blockchain calculations for other purposes, the process can be stopped and started at will, without losing any data, and theoretically, any money.
By: Steve Shapiro, PE Partner at EYP Mission Critical Facilities
Blockchain technology or distributed ledger technology can be used for tracking data points, recording transactions (mining) or any other process that requires maintaining databases. It is a decentralized process and can be done anywhere and everywhere, all at the same time.
Because it is a distributed process, infrastructure reliability is not as big a concern for blockchain as it is for standard data processing. If we are processing in one location and power is lost, when power is restored the processing begins again. Granted, while the blockchain is not being mined no profit is made. The cost of infrastructure and power consumption play an important part in the profitability of the mining process. When blockchain is used for enterprise applications, such as a hospital or a bank, the processing cost is not the issue, and the reliability of continued processing becomes more important.
For standard data center data processing the loss of power can be catastrophic. Data loss, equipment damage, and potentially waiting hours before an application can be brought back online and all users restored access can cause significant loss of revenue to a customer.
Processing cryptocurrency is a process that relies on low-cost infrastructure and inexpensive power. Mining takes several things into account when it comes to the overall profitability of the process. Minimal physical infrastructure, little to no mechanical cooling and simple power infrastructure are the keys to profitability, along with cheap power. The cheaper the power the more money can be made through the mining process.
Crypto mining facilities can vary from a containerized solution, brownfield or greenfield purpose-built facility, to an abandoned supermarket with large windows front and back.
Key to the operation is unimpeded airflow. The most energy efficient system is one that uses no cooling beyond the fans provided with the mining equipment. Due to the low static pressure capabilities of these fans, massive amounts of unimpeded air are required to cool large facilities. Large louvers with large open areas that limit rain and snow carryover are required. Sometimes booster fans are used to make sure the air moves in and out of larger facilities.
Miners are “installed” on large shelving units like a baker’s rack or racks seen in big box stores. These shelving units are sealed on one side with any assortment of materials to isolate the hot from the cold and make the installation more efficient by avoiding hot/cold air mixing. Hundreds of units are located in pods or hot/cold aisle rows to maximize the cooling and minimize the electrical infrastructure. More and more prefabricated and specialized assemblies are being developed by hot aisle containment vendors specifically for these applications. Each miner can require two power cords and 3-5kW of power. That 3-5kW of power goes almost directly to heat that must be removed from the facility and replaced with cold air. These facilities are run very hot and are best installed in cold environments to take advantages of the climate.
100 miners can run up to 500kW+ of load in a small footprint. Getting power and IT connections to these loads requires custom distribution. We can take some cues from traditional data center design and provide local PDUs, custom multioutlet assemblies (plug strips) and top of the shelf switching to get all power and communications to the miners. Newer installations are looking to provide remote power monitoring and remotely switchable circuit breakers to allow for resetting of a miner circuit.
No UPS or generator power is provided for the blockchain processing. A small UPS and generator are typically provided for the communications network as that is the only truly critical part of the infrastructure. Below you can find photos of some of the good and some of the ugly of the mining world.
As much power as they use, mining companies are always looking for green power to offset the costs and the poor image of crypto mining. More on that in future posts.
Steve leads the electrical department at EYP MCF, Part of Ramboll and has been the lead electrical design engineer and project manager for many multi-million-dollar data center projects.
Steve Shapiro has been in the mission-critical industry for over 30 years and has a diverse background in the study, reporting, design, commissioning, development, and management of reliable electrical distribution, emergency power, lighting, and fire protection systems for high tech environments.
His experience also includes providing analysis of critical application support facilities. Steve has extensive experience in the design and management of corporate and mission-critical facilities projects with over 4 million square feet of raised floor experience, over 200 MW of UPS experience, and over 400 MW of generator experience.
He is the author of numerous technical articles and seminars and speaks at many industry technical conferences.