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Bitcoin Mining vs. Data Center Design Techniques

10 Minute read

When considering the construction of a bitcoin mining operation you must weigh several factors to install an efficient delivery of power and cooling of your important mining systems.

Many approach bitcoin mining farms like traditional computer data centers. However, there are several factors that are different when it comes to the decisions to be made in the design. In this article we will discuss the comparisons of Bitcoin mining construction vs. data centers.

Bitcoin vs. Data Center Design

There are many similarities between bitcoin mining and data center designs. Both heavily rely on the electrical and mechanical systems. Both use large amounts of power. Both seek the highest usage and efficiency of power or (PUE) Power Usage Effectiveness.

In a traditional sense a data center is wrought with redundancies, what-if power scenarios, backup system for backup systems. All intertwined with large power and cooling requirements so that servers are constantly happy, and never shall there be a moment of downtime. All the while consuming large amounts of power and forced very directed redundant cooling.

The Bitcoin Mining operation seems to be heavily reliant on power, as well as the need for massive cooling systems. However, the complicated redundancies are not required. There may be shut-down, or re-starts. But all in all, the focus is large amounts of efficient power, and directed cooling to achieve maximum PUE Power Usage Effectiveness.  

Planning a Bitcoin Mining Operation

Both Bitcoin mining and data center projects require much up-front planning. One of the most expensive things you could do is install a section of power distribution for your Bitcoin farm, and then require extra capacity in the form of power or cooling. This would require a re-design and installation of all your electrical distribution. Therefore, the capacity planning starting with the racks of equipment, and future potential systems discussion should be provided for in the power distribution system. This same power system will provide for the electrical capacity and the mechanical capacity of your farm. The distribution of power in a plan is the roadmap to bring the multitude of power drops, and voltage changes to your mining loads. Starting at the electrical switchgear, the most efficient way to deliver power to your mining equipment is at a higher voltage. The higher the voltage, the smaller the electrical wiring and the least installation costs. This also allows you to deliver the most capacity to given areas of your facility. This is a well thought out power distribution plan.

The power distribution and location plan allow for a mechanical overlay of cooling requirements. Now and future. Without knowing the power usage locations, you would not know how and where to cool your mining loads. This planning process will be the framework of your electrical and mechanical systems. Then you will choose technologies to support it.

Bitcoin Mining vs. Data Center Power Planning  

As discussed, electrical and systems in the traditional data center have a multitude of redundancies. A bitcoin operator is more focused on the input cost vs the output of Bitcoin. The preference is that the processes are not interrupted, but that they do not need as much redundancy as a data center. A bitcoin mining operator must choose between up front capital expenditures for power correction, vs. downtime and re-booting of systems. These processes if frequent, can cause considerable operational expenses, and loss of output from systems.

Typical Data Center Power Systems used in Bitcoin Operations

Systems are common for both applications but the uses vary. Below we will describe several typical data center technologies and how they may relate to bitcoin operations.

(UPS) Uninterruptible Power System

A UPS and storage batteries are a mainstay in a typical data center environment. Is one of the most common components of a critical facility and is put in place so that loads do not drop during power events. However, a bitcoin mining operation may have a different use for a UPS rather than providing 100% uptime. The quality of power that enters a typical server, or bitcoin miner power supply will affect the long-term operation of that system. All power is variable and never perfect. The intensive cost of bitcoin mining machinery can be the largest input cost to the operation. If you provide suspect, or ever-changing power to those systems they will wear and tear to a shorter lifetime. Therefore, for a bitcoin mining operation, the UPS is a means to sterilize the power for all it’s systems. The added benefit is the runtime and backup power it provides during an outage. Operators can sequence systems to shut down and extend the battery for a really optimum solution. The alternative is shorter lifetime of equipment, as well as dealing with downtime or re-booting scenarios.  

Power Distribution Units (PDU)

Power distribution units in a data center provide a means to transfer higher voltage power in a facility, closer to the equipment seeking the power. PDU’s typically will have a voltage transformer inside of them, as well as breaker panels for customizing power distribution at that location. PDU’s can sit on the mining floor anywhere and provide an efficient means to deliver power throughout the facility.

Generator and (ATS) Automatic Transfer Switch

For extended reliability and potential unlimited runtime backup generator systems are almost always installed at data center locations. To extend the UPS battery runtime beyond it’s capacity the generator steps in to replace utility power for as long as there is a fuel source. Bitcoin operators can weigh the benefits of unlimited power source with backup generator systems vs. shutting down and re-starts and the potential for extended power outages or access to utility power due to unforeseen circumstances.

Alternative Power Solutions for Bitcoin Mining

In addition to standard methods to correct power in a data center. There are additional options for provide power filtering namely for bitcoin applications.

Voltage Correction or Conditioning

If the facility power utility is reliable and relatively free of interruptions, or interruptions are not of concern to the operations. It is still important to sterilize the incoming power of your facility. Much like un-filtered water entering your home pipes without filtering, over time un-filtered power can wreak havoc on systems and expensive components. This indirect cost will be incurred as degradation of equipment and increased component failures, but the culprit may be the power source exposure over time.  

 Voltage Correction and/or Conditioning can provide for the regulated voltage output that will provide clean corrected power for your bitcoin mining components, without the higher cap ex cost for the additional storage or runtime. This option at a minimum would be suggested for all bitcoin mining applications.

Bitcoin vs Data Center Cooling Methods

Both applications require large amounts of cooling. Just as in electrical support systems great attention is paid to taking away heat from the systems. Bitcoin mechanical systems, however, may be approached with a more brute force method. As a data center cooling system is very directed at certain watt densities, careful attention to backup redundant systems, and low tolerance for overheating. Bitcoin operation facilities can experience a wider range of temperature ranges. Not that is should completely be overlooked and can withstand a runaway thermal event. But that larger increment cooling solutions can be applied to bitcoin mining farm cooling solutions and be successful.

Typical Data Center Cooling Solutions used in Bitcoin Mining

The following would be typical data center cooling methods used for bitcoin applications.

Open-Air and Drop-Down Cooling Aisles

Typically, a bitcoin operation has a very “open rack” open system structure. Therefore, a typical data center drop-down cooling from above in a “cold aisle” and “hot aisle” method can be used. The technology is interchangeable from above. But the airflow methods remain the same. Cool air drops down from the mechanical systems, and the return plenums pull the hot directed air back in from the hot side of the aisle. Many bitcoin operators prefer to stand racks directly on slab, and not a raised or access floor system. This is a low-cost installation option for both data centers and bitcoin operators.  

Open Cooling with Chimney Systems

Many bitcoin operators simply want brute force airflow into the room with a limited quantity of sources. In this application the best way to distribute that cold air is to efficiently remove the hot air so the cold will take it’s place. Chimney systems located directly above bitcoin mining racks can directly pull the hot air from the top of the systems. A more directed approach is direct chimneys connected to the racks and isolate sides of the racking.   

Raised Flooring / Access Floor

An efficient way to deliver cold air and isolate hot air. Many access floor systems are built for a traditional data center application. Providing consistent watt densities directly to rack fronts for servers. This application can be used by bitcoin mining but is not typically designed for it.

Cost to Operate Bitcoin Mining vs. Data Center

It is clear from this article that the componentry to support data center and bitcoin operations are very similar. They are used, however, in different priorities. It is also clear from the industry that the input metric of “electricity” (E) is of high priority. Therefore, the design of a facility that will convert each unit of (E) into a unit of bitcoin is of high importance. The (PUE) Power Usage Effectiveness is of high priority to both. Bitcoin mining has less a need for additional systems of redundancy as in a data center. The offset should be operational integrity of the bitcoin mining system. If it is to be determined that the life of the mining equipment is diminished quicker, and that there are more bouts of downtime, re-starts, and repairs, then it would be sufficient to say that regulating and sterilizing power should be a requirement of bitcoin mining. Avoiding the unseen power impacts on equipmment.

Data Center Redundancy and Bitcoin Operations

As it pertains to redundancy. There are wide differences between data center redundancy and bitcoin operation requirements for electrical and mechanical.

A typical N Power system should suffice for bitcoin operations. For data center N+1, 2N, or 2N+1 is typical for power related systems. N+1 should be a required operation for cooling systems for Bitcoin and all processing environments. As the runaway thermal scenario could shut down any operation for a considerable period of time. Data center N+1, 2N and 2N+1 scenarios are still typical.

Experienced Guidance at FGC Construction

FGC Construction is experienced in designing and building facilities for both the Bitcoin mining and data center industries. We can help you choose the right system for your project. Please contact your representative to discuss opportunities to build out your electrical and mechanical systems for your Bitcoin Mining Operation., (855) 240-6776.

  • FGC Construction installed an entire megawatt of UPS and generator upgrade to our 3d Printing facility. This holds our power stable and provides unlimited runtime. Much appreciated!

    Lee M.COO - Boston, MA
  • FGC Construction delivered 2.5MW of high density data center in the middle of Silicon Valley. City planning to utility negotiations. Very impressed!

    Tim S.CFO - Silicon Valley, CA

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