Irish power crunch could be prompting AWS to ration compute resources

Users report being pointed to other EU regions if they need more grunt

Exclusive Datacenter power issues in Ireland may be coming to a head amid reports from customers that Amazon is restricting resources users can spin up in that nation, even directing them to other AWS regions across Europe instead.

Energy consumed by datacenters is a growing concern, especially in places such as Ireland where there are clusters of facilities around Dublin that already account for a significant share of the country's energy supply. This may be leading to restrictions on how much infrastructure can be used, given the power requirements.

AWS users have informed The Register that there are sometimes limits on the resources that they can access in its Ireland bit barn, home to Amazon's eu-west-1 region, especially with power-hungry instances that make use of GPUs to accelerate workloads such as AI.

"You cannot spin up GPU nodes in AWS Dublin as those locations are maxed out power-wise. There is reserved capacity for EC2 just in case," one source told us. "If you have a problem with that, AWS Europe will point you at spare capacity in Sweden and other parts of the EU."

We asked AWS about these issues, but when it finally responded the company was somewhat evasive.

"Ireland remains core to our global infrastructure strategy, and we will continue to work with customers to understand their needs, and help them to scale and grow their business," a spokesperson told us.

Ireland's power grid operator, EirGrid, was likewise less than direct when we asked if they were limiting the amount of power datacenters could consume.

"EirGrid is responsible for the safe and secure operation of Ireland's electricity transmission system. As part of its role, EirGrid supplies electricity directly to Large Energy Users, which includes larger datacenters connected directly to the transmission system," a spokesperson said.

"EirGrid may from time to time request Large Energy Users to reduce their energy use as part of our Demand Side Management," the spokesperson added.

In other words, EirGrid does sometimes ask Large Energy Users to dial back their energy draw, but is declining to say explicitly if this has ever involved any of those bit barns.

This tiptoeing around the matter is perhaps understandable when datacenters have been a success story for Ireland. There are more than 80 of them in the country, including a presence from all three of the big cloud operators – Google, Microsoft, and Amazon – and these have brought employment and revenue to Ireland.

As the Irish Times wrote recently, the role of datacenters in the Irish economy is a contentious issue, both inside and outside of government, and power consumption is just one of the reasons.

According to Ireland's Central Statistics Office (CSO), power usage by datacenters increased by 31 percent between 2021 and 2022, hitting 18 percent of the total metered electricity consumption.

A recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that if unchecked, this could grow to 32 percent of Ireland's electricity by 2026. This figure is disputed, however, with EirGrid stating that it assumed every facility approved for connection to the power system would be completed and operating at full capacity in 2026.

The grid operator's own estimates are that datacenter power draw will reach 25.7 percent of national electricity consumption – more than a quarter – by this date. And that statement was a tacit admission that it will hit 32 percent sometime in the near future.

The problem is wider than just AWS and Ireland. Power limitations may be affecting datacenters and their users in other parts of Europe and beyond.

"This is something I've been hearing more and more about recently and not just Dublin," IDC Senior Research Director in EMEA Andrew Buss told The Reg. "While AWS might be impacted it's broader than that."

"I've heard from implementers and consultants that for some Azure datacenters, customers are being given virtual machine startup quotas to limit how quickly new demands and resource consumption can impact operations."


CEO of UK's National Grid warns of datacenters' thirst for power


Some datacenter operators have also found that otherwise suitable sites have proven unviable because of a shortage of power, as it would take too long to develop the required power links for the anticipated workloads, Buss said.

"This is another reason why it is not feasible for most European organizations to close all their datacenters and migrate wholesale to the public cloud as the capacity just is not there and won't be for decades," he added.

As reported last year, European bit barn operators are finding it harder to secure reliable and cost-effective power, while just last month, the head of the UK's National Grid warned that datacenter power consumption is on track to grow 500 percent over the next decade.

Another analyst that asked to remain anonymous told us that Ireland, Singapore, and the Netherlands are all maxed out on available power for any new datacenter builds so this isn't purely a European problem. In the US, new builds in Loudoun County in the state of Virginia will have restricted power as transmission lines capable of meeting their requirements have yet to be constructed.

Small wonder that some datacenter operators are turning to drastic measures to secure power for their facilities. AWS, for example, recently acquired one sited adjacent to a nuclear power plant in northeast Pennsylvania. ®

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