The future of the cloud looks nuclear

Today: why nuclear power has emerged as an intriguing option for cloud companies looking for new sources of energy, Google Cloud explains how it deleted a customer's infrastructure, and the latest funding rounds in enterprise tech.

The future of the cloud looks nuclear
Photo by Nicolas HIPPERT / Unsplash

Welcome to Runtime! Today: why nuclear power has emerged as an intriguing option for cloud companies looking for new sources of energy, Google Cloud explains how it deleted a customer's infrastructure, and the latest funding rounds in enterprise tech.

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Full steam ahead

Enterprise tech companies have been at the vanguard of investment in renewable and sustainable energy over the last two decades, seeking new, clean power sources for their rapidly expanding data-center campuses that allowed a generation keenly aware of the threat of climate change to sleep at night. But the AI boom is pushing the limits of those sources, forcing utilities around the world to push back on new data-center construction plans and keep their coal-fired plants running.

A relatively small but fast-growing number of people believe the solution is nuclear power, which just a few years ago seemed like a dangerous relic of the 1970s and 1980s. But nuclear reactors offer almost everything data centers need in a power source; they provide a constant, efficient, and reliable stream of electricity that could supplement other renewable sources like solar and wind.

  • "This is stuff we figured out in the 1940s and 1950s, before the personal computer was invented," said Michael Crabb, senior vice president of commercial at Last Energy, a company building small modular reactors, or SMRs. "We've gotten a lot better at it."
  • But it is almost impossible to get a nuclear plant built in 21st-century America: Georgia Power opened the Vogtle 4 unit just last month after opening the Vogtle 3 unit in 2023, and both of those projects took more than 14 years to get up and running.
  • However, last week the White House weighed in on behalf of the nuclear revival, which if the Biden Administration manages to secure a second term could lead to profound regulatory change.
  • “Nuclear and renewables are complementary and nuclear is the only proven clean and firm energy technology,” said Rian Bahran, assistant director of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, according to Data Center Knowledge.

A new generation of data centers designed for AI workloads is already putting a strain on the power grid, and in recent months AWS, Microsoft, Google, Meta, and other hyperscalers have announced plans to sink well north of $100 billion into data-center expansion just this year.

However, SMRs are in the somewhat-disappointing section of the hype cycle, with only two in production around the world as of March. That lack of progress has spurred interest in the holy grail of energy production: nuclear fusion.

  • "It's clean, it's firm, it's safe, it's scalable, it's secure," said Rick Needham, chief commercial officer at CFS. "It finally removes you from the geopolitical supply chain completely."
  • However, it is very important to point out at the onset of any discussion regarding nuclear fusion that the technology has not been proven to actually work at any kind of commercially relevant scale, let alone the scale that nuclear fission has provided for decades. 
  • But fusion backers have a big advantage over fission fans; the U.S. has agreed to regulate fusion development "more like a particle accelerator, or a medical facility that does radiotherapy," Needham said.
  • "The worst thing that happens at a fusion plant is it just turns off," Needham said. "It is not a chain reaction; there's no such thing as a meltdown at a fusion plant."

Read the rest of the full story on Runtime here.

Going under down under

After weeks of silence beyond a joint statement confirming an "unprecedented" outage at Australian financial services company UniSuper, Google Cloud chose the Friday before the holiday weekend to release a lot more detail about the incident. "The impact was very disappointing and we deeply regret the inconvenience caused to our customer," the company said in a blog post.

Google confirmed that UniSuper was a Google Cloud VMware Engine customer, which it used to migrate on-premises applications to Google's infrastructure last year. But around that time, "there was an inadvertent misconfiguration of the GCVE service by Google operators due to leaving a parameter blank," and that inadvertent misconfiguration had the effect of creating a "fixed term" for that GCVE infrastructure that self-destructed one year later without warning.

"The incident trigger and the downstream system behavior have both been corrected to ensure that this cannot happen again," Google said. The incident could have been a lot worse if UniSuper hadn't maintained a backup of its data at another site, and Google credited "the customer’s robust and resilient architectural approach to managing risk of outage or failure" for helping save the day.

Enterprise funding

Transcend raised a $40 million Series B round to find more customers for its customer-data management software.

Portland's own Hydrolix landed $35 million in Series B funding to bring the data lake architectural concept to log data.

Averlon emerged from stealth mode with $10.5 million in total seed funding for its cloud security alert-management software.

The Runtime roundup

The Internet Archive is still dealing with a DDoS attack that has made its site difficult to reach, but its repository of web sites remains intact.

The backlog of software vulnerabilities that haven't been analyzed by the National Vulnerability Database is growing, researchers warned.

For all the talk about nuclear and zero-carbon energy, less than one-third of U.S. enterprises care about building environmentally friendly infrastructure, according to a survey conducted by The Register.

Magnetic tape storage is growing despite long-standing predictions of its demise thanks to increased data-storage requirements created by, you guessed it, the AI boom.

Thanks for reading — see you Thursday!

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