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Opinion

Power-hungry computers look set to stop the world

The increased use of ever more powerful computers in the financial markets is having an unexpected effect on Canary Wharf, London’s supposedly modern, high-tech business location.

The main electricity supplier to Canary Wharf, EDF Energy, is struggling to supply enough power. As a result, services, including lifts in the numerous high-rise buildings, are regularly experiencing slowdowns.

According to Scott Harrison, strategic account manager at open source provider Red Hat, data centres are struggling to cope with the escalating amounts of heat from servers. As well as requiring power for the servers, the data centres need even more electricity to cool them. “When Canary Wharf was initially developed, the amount of power that is now required was not anticipated. I have spoken with many banks with data centres in Canary Wharf that were unable to deploy any more servers in those data centres,” says Harrison.

“Most of them have or are in the process of expanding their data centre capacity outside of Canary Wharf and only housing servers in Canary Wharf that really need to be there,” he adds. This appears to be the start of a vicious circle. Relocating servers elsewhere raises latency issues and some operational risk.

EDF Energy says it is in regular contact with its major customers to ensure that its system keeps pace with advances in computer and data technology. “We advise companies to give us as much advance notice as possible and to liaise closely with us as soon as they are aware that their power needs are going to increase significantly,” a company spokesman says. “Timing is always a crucial factor in meeting these requests, as planning projects to reinforce specific parts of our network can involve significant work to the cables and substations supplying the area and involve considerable lead times.”

Many of Canary Wharf’s most modern buildings have their own generators. However, it seems that the first generation of offices built there might not. Canary Wharf will not be the only location that is struggling with the power demands from today’s increasingly electronic markets. This potentially looks like a variation of the typical science-fiction film, where computers take over the world. In this tale, computers bring the world to a standstill as a result of their demands for more electricity.

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