The Changing Data Center

August 11, 2008 at 8:48 am 1 comment

Many of us take the internet for granted. We use things like Google, MySpace, and Microsoft Updates on a daily basis, but rarely consider the details such as the amount of power that is required to store and process the vast amounts of information.

In 2000, data centers comprised less than one percent of total US electrical consumption. Yet by 2005, despite a 7 percent growth in electricity production, data centers’ power consumption grew to 1.4 percent of the total – the equivalent of seven medium-sized (750 MW) power plants. According to the Energy Information Administration, by 2010 that amount is expected to nearly double to 2.3 percent of the total energy consumed.

The number one reason for the increase is cooling. Simply put data centers generate an incredible amount of heat and must be kept cool to reduce the number of hardware failures. And innovations in technology – faster processors and computer density – is what is driving the increase in demand.

The Information Technology (IT) industry has proven that the pace of technology development can be stunning. In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that the amount of transistors per square inch on circuits would double every 24 months. In actuality, it has doubled every 18 months. The dramatic increase in the density of electronics ultimately causes increased temperatures inside and around the chips.

Lately, among climate concerns and the mounting prices of electricity, many companies that run data centers are beginning to feel the crunch as their bottom line is being pushed into the red. How to compete during these changing market conditions formed the focus of a recent gathering of U.S. experts at the Next Generation Data Center Conference in San Francisco. There, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) energy analysts Sam Newman and Bryan Palmentier showed how designing radically efficient data centers can keep the industry in the black for years to come.

From past and current client experience, RMI has found that the same computing services can be provided with 95 to 99 percent less power than standard practice. And these gains are achievable with off-the-shelf technology.

According to RMI’s research, average data centers are hugely energy inefficient. For every 100 watts these data centers consume, only 2.5 watts result in useful computing. The rest of the power is wasted on low server utilization and inefficiencies in the server power supply, fans and hardware that cool servers, UPS (uninterrupted power supply), lighting, and central cooling.

Data centers can achieve radical power savings by increasing the productivity of technologies closest to the end-use. This avoids all upstream inefficiencies as well. In the case of data centers this means focusing on IT loads – by turning off unused servers, purchasing more efficient models, or running multiple applications on one machine.

Once IT loads are addressed, upstream equipment can be downsized as well. For instance, smaller IT loads require smaller cooling systems.

These are only a few examples of the possibilities whole-systems design presents. A host of organizations from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to the Uptime Institute to the Alliance to Save Energy have compiled their own strategies to cut data center energy use.

Though most of us may never see these developments when logging into our e-mail or updating our profiles, many of our favorite online services depend on these kinds of breakthroughs.

But in an industry that prides itself on innovation, creative solutions are no doubt at hand.

By briansrapier

[via Treehugger]

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Entry filed under: Emerging Technologies, Energy, Environment, Information Technology, Informational, Research. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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