Data center innovation: New ways to save energy
When one reads "data center" and "energy efficiency" in the same sentence, it is often in reference to companies such as Facebook or Google and their investments in green computing.
The typical data center, however, has yet to absorb the conservation practices of the top-tier energy savers. The ongoing task of powering up and cooling down a data center continues to consume plenty of kilowatt-hours, so there's ample room for improvement in most computer rooms.
"A lot of the federal facilities and the private industry facilities have been slow to adopt the changes that some of the big players have done," said William Tschudi, leader of the High Tech and Industrial Systems Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Tschudi's group was recently designated the Energy Department's Center of Expertise for energy efficiency in data centers. Part of the center's mission is to provide tools, best practices and technologies to help federal agencies improve their energy efficiency.
Although data center leaders have heeded the efficiency message, other facilities have yet to adopt their techniques on a widespread basis. "A lot of that hasn't trickled down to the main market," Tschudi said. "We are trying to get the whole market to move."
Data centers can avail themselves of an array of energy-saving practices. Industry-accepted environmental guidelines now tolerate higher temperature and humidity levels in data centers, which opens the way for more cooling options than were previously viable, including "free" methods such as evaporative cooling and emerging techniques such as immersion cooling.
Other methods look for energy savings in nontraditional areas such as server-to-server communications. Such innovations, combined with more prosaic approaches to trimming energy use, add up to potentially massive savings.
Why it matters
Concerns about the data center power drain are not new. A 2007 Environmental Protection Agency report states that U.S. servers and data centers consumed some 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2006 -- or 1.5 percent of the nation's total electricity consumption. Federal data centers accounted for 10 percent, or 6 billion kWh of electricity, at an annual cost of $450 million, according to the report.
Last year, the Digital Power Group reported that the world's information and communications technology (ICT) sector consumes about 1,500 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, an amount comparable to the total electricity generation of Japan and Germany. The report contends that the ICT ecosystem's consumption approaches 10 percent of worldwide electricity generation.
Pulkit Grover, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the power drain will continue to increase. He cited studies by Belgium's Ghent University that predict ICT will consume 15 percent of the world's energy by 2020.