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Data Centers Prepare for a Renewable Future 97

Posted by kdawson
from the less-facebook-guilt dept.
miller60 writes "A small but growing number of data centers are generating renewable energy at their facility, despite challenges with cost and scalability. In a special report, Data Center Knowledge looks at data centers implementing on-site solar power, wind energy, geothermal cooling and recycling waste heat from their hot aisles. Even as some projects choose to go green, other data center operators insist that improved power efficiency offers a far better return and carbon impact than pursuing on-site renewables."
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Data Centers Prepare for a Renewable Future

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  • by Yvan256 (722131) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @02:24PM (#32891816) Homepage Journal

    Use the hardware that give you the most "computing units" (targeted to your computing needs, i.e. floating-point, database access, etc) per watt. That should automatically take care of not using wasteful (heat-producing) hardware.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Use the hardware that give you the most "computing units" (targeted to your computing needs, i.e. floating-point, database access, etc) per watt. That should automatically take care of not using wasteful (heat-producing) hardware.

      There are trade-offs there as well. -_-

    • or have all the systems running at 50% capacity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Yvan256 (722131)

        Idle means zero computing units and running at 50% capacity means half the possible computing units (but probably way more than 50% power usage).

        • Well, not exactly (Score:3, Informative)

          by Colin Smith (2679)

          Idle means zero computing units and running

          Performance per watt is almost always calculated running flat out at 100%.

          So if it's idle. i.e. not doing anything useful, it's almost certainly still consuming a significant amount of power doing symbiotic processing; processing which is necessary to keep the system running but which doesn't contribute directly to useful computing units. Except that won't be covered in the performance/watt figures.

          So, using performance per watt when purchasing is really only useful as a measure if you're able to keep your

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by poetmatt (793785)

            do you mean symbolic or symbiotic? I can't exactly find that term if you mean symbiotic.

            Meanwhile, I agree about performance per watt but I do not agree about idle wattage. It's been shown that for many processors idle wattage is quite low in comparison. In fact, complete computer systems tend to use exponentially more power as they head closer to 100% load or above.

            • by Hylandr (813770)
              Lets not forget Screensavers or things like BOINC running when not in direct use.

              The best energy policy for these machines is no BOINC or other background operations and blank the screen when not in use.

              - Dan.
              • by poetmatt (793785)

                well, given that we're talking data centers would they ever really run boinc? That sounds contrary to what a data center would od really.

      • by Bengie (1121981)

        you build out to support peak usage. Average server usage can be quite low, but you can't have your system coming to a crawl when peak hits.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by skids (119237)

      I'm all for more efficient hardware systems. They definitely, definitely should be done, as long as the efficiency gain is more than incremental. However the danger with taking that approach only is that it encourages rampant expansion as software engineers hear stuff like "we can do twice as much per watt now" and think "goody, I can save several man hours by not compiling out the debug code and re-testing the optimized code."

      Same goes (kinda) for virtualization. It's a great technology, very smart, and

      • by Jurily (900488)

        However the danger with taking that approach only is that it encourages rampant expansion as software engineers hear stuff like "we can do twice as much per watt now" and think "goody, I can save several man hours by not compiling out the debug code and re-testing the optimized code."

        Make it run, make it correct, make it fast. As long as developer time is extremely more expensive than CPU time, there won't be time for step 3.

        Businesses only optimize for power usage when it's the most expensive factor in the equation. I think we'll have to run out of oil before that happens.

  • hrm. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @02:24PM (#32891826)

    "other data center operators insist that improved power efficiency offers a far better return and carbon impact that pursuing on-site renewables."

    These are not mutually exclusive.

    • Re:hrm. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by eln (21727) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @02:35PM (#32891986) Homepage
      Exactly. Any data center engineers running into issues with the cost of power and cooling (ie, all of them) should be exploring both of these options. Whatever solutions we come up with, be they efficient machines or renewable on-site energy or both, are destined to become inadequate at some point as our computing needs inevitably expand to fill the available capacity. The more additive solutions we can pile on, the longer the time horizon before we end up in another crisis where we have to find yet another innovative solution.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        While true, the limitting factors usually boil down to either apathy for the problem, not enough money to deploy all solutions, or the profit motive.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by XanC (644172)

          Not, gasp, the profit motive! The only good datacenter is the one in business to NOT make money, that's what I always say.

          • Well - okay - its not the profit motive directly, but I can spell out what I meant by that.

            You can say capitalism is always the way to go no matter what - but until being green is the best way to make money - you won't see a corporation being green.

            There are two ways to change that - by Law (which would be considered government regulation, so not very capitalistic) or by 'voting with your dollar'.

            Until the public puts greater emphasis on having green products, by willing to spend more for a green product, (

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kjella (173770)

        are destined to become inadequate at some point as our computing needs inevitably expand to fill the available capacity.

        Which is why you can question how "green" these projects really are, what's the point to reduce consumption if it's immediately offset by an equal and opposite increase in consumption? It's as if we made cars with twice the MPG and everybody decided "cool, then I can make my commute twice as long and really get out of the city". Green projects are those that reduce aggregate consumption, sure it's nice if people get more for each watt or more people are able to participate in the wealth, but it doesn't do t

        • Which is why you can question how "green" these projects really are, what's the point to reduce consumption if it's immediately offset by an equal and opposite increase in consumption?

          It can be difficult to increase consumption though - at least practically.

          Like the car analogy, I can technically drive further on a tank of gas but thats less time I have for my vacation.

          Often times there are more factors limitting the consumption than there are limitting efficiency. You can't just decide to run twice as many computers in a building that is already full of computers.

        • That is assuming you're looking only for a net benefit to the environment. In this case, the green tech offsets the added capacity which is used for added productivity elsewhere in the economy. You're allowing for more efficient growth, and the net benefit is that the environment wasn't harmed more in the pursuit of growth.

          Yes, idealists will argue that we should fix the environment first, but a pragmatist has to recognise that everyone's going to ask along the chain, "what's in it for me?". This way you've

    • "other data center operators insist that improved power efficiency offers a far better return and carbon impact that pursuing on-site renewables."

      These are not mutually exclusive.

      They are saying that for all practical purposes they are. There is only so much money that a company can afford to invest in building the data center. If I spend $10,000 on generating electricity from renewable sources and that electricity would only have cost me $5000 over the life time of the data center, that is $10,000 I don't have to spend on more energy efficient equipment in the data center. (I am using an example which shows a tradeoff that would make renewable energy a bad decision, not one that I

    • by evilviper (135110)

      These are not mutually exclusive.

      ...if you have unlimited funds at your disposal.

  • It makes for very delicate, frail, some times dangerous products. Stone age equipment running on renewables is much more robust on the long term.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My (small) datacenter is 100% off-the-grid solar powered (with redundant power feeds from two PV systems), and I recycle the waste heat.

    It wasn't particularly "difficult" or "expensive", but a good example of what's possible when you *really* care about solving the problem.

    • How Small is your data center though - and how does the density compare to larger datacenters?

      I think the issue is that you found a great way to pack 100 servers in a room and keep it off the grid. Whereas companies like Microsoft have managed to fit 1000 servers in the same space and to deploy these green systems requires more space than what their building allows.

  • id like to see (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nimbius (983462) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @02:33PM (#32891962) Homepage
    exactly how much in the office, not the datacenter, we're failing to "go green." I know its off topic but aside from the lights-out datacenter not much has really been done for large datacenters like the one i work in, while the office seems like an energy hog with no end in sight

    I do hear constantly however of minimum light levels that must be maintained in offices, and the temperature in a cube farm being forcibly maintained at 72 degrees. the vending machines run 24/7 when nobody is around, and the parking lot is constantly lit up like a runway.
    • Re:id like to see (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jridley (9305) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @02:46PM (#32892158)

      I agree, it's pretty damned inefficient here. They build buildings with the cheapest construction techniques available, just basically a big metal semi-insulated crackerbox, then put 10,000 tons of A/C on the roof. There are 45,000 watts of fluorescent tubes just on this floor of our office building, and they're on for hours a day that are not necessary. I'd like to be able to turn my computer off, but every few days I need to access it remotely. I could do both if they'd deploy a little 50 watt wake-on-lan box, but nobody cares. I have asked about 10 times over the last 5 years for the "green team" to push for "put the monitors in power save mode after 30 minutes" to be the default on the standard desktop, but though they always say "that's a great idea" it never happens.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Why do you need an extra box? Just about all office computers made this decade support wake on lan.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by icebraining (1313345)

          Wake on Lan doesn't work remotely, because it works below the IP layer (a disconnected computer can't have an IP address, since the TCP/IP stack isn't running).

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            No, you need to vpn in then login to a machine that does stay up and use it to send the wake on lan packet.

            • by h4rr4r (612664)

              To make it clearer, you can just pick 1 machine per row or floor or even better a small linux vm with no other use.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by icebraining (1313345)

                And that 1 machine is the box he's talking about. With the difference that the "box" would use much less power.

        • Because he needs to reach his PC and "tickle" it using it's MAC number.
          And usually the office runs in a LAN, and the PCs are not directly visible from the outside. Hence you need a little box that handles both network interfaces (to be seen by the internet and able to see the LAN) to forward in the magic packets.
          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            So you vpn in, rdp/ssh to a machine left up for this purpose, preferably a vm that can be run on a server for near 0 cpu cost since it so rarely gets used. This lets you launch the wake on lan packet for this purpose.

            • by jridley (9305)

              Yup, and that's the box I was talking about. I'd prefer for them to put together a low power PC and just leave it in the server room to do this for a whole floor at once.

      • Human nature. People are one or more of apathetic, complacent, lazy and stupid. It's great.

         

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by JumpDrive (1437895)
        Well you are lucky that you aren't here. Here they installed the double pained reflective windows backwards, so light comes in and you can always see your reflection. But at least it is double pained glass.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bryansix (761547)
      Effecient Office design can be good but it can have it's drawbacks. For instance, we are in a suite of a larger office building that was once part of another suite. They built walls but they did not install a 24/7 A/C unit for our server rack. Instead we operate a floor model which emits it hot air into the drop ceiling thereby causing further ineffeciencies. So yes, effeciency is good but good planning and scalability and flexability are sometime more important.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Wiarumas (919682)

      Be careful what you wish for. I worked in a building where the client refused to turn on the lights on a floor that had contractors. That was miserable - especially in the winter when I went to work, it was dark, dark all day long, and went home and it was dark. Green, but miserable.

      On a more positive note, they also promoted working remotely which was one of my favorite perks about that place.

    • At our workplace, we're mandated to leave our desktops ON 24/7 because "you never know when the Desktop team is going to push out software updates".

  • I found this interesting and pertinent. I work at an institution that's extremely interesting in "going green" as they have a large, growing IT department with their own data center and like to think of themselves as being "progressive." Does anyone have any further information on this kind of project? Preferably something that dodges the buzz word bingo game and is actually constructive, rare as that may sound.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by codepunk (167897)

      Any how many of their workers telecommute, imagine if all of them did, savings of probably 100's of tousands of gallons of gasoline not burned. I often imagine how much gasoline could be saved in this country if nearly every office worker in the country that was able to, could telecommute the majority of the time.

      • by raind (174356)

        I hear that, not much reason to be in the office besides the occasional hardware problem, power failure, or when some miscreant throws a large rock thru the window to steal a flat screen tv.

    • We had some excess profits back in 2007 that was use or be taxed at 40% so we put up some solar panels. (Also some tax credits at the time at the state level that made it attractive as well). We're a small shop, but invested about $60k all said and done and it cut our utility rates per month to cover a Jr. level developers salary. In fact we were planning on using the savings to hire an additional developer, but that didn't happen due to the economy. Also, last year the state adopted a new law that all

  • implementing on-site solar power, wind energy, geothermal cooling and recycling waste heat from their hot aisles.

    Anyone else get a raging brainer reading this?

  • Get more virtualization and stacked hardware, the one that sinks in water like they showed a few months ago in /.

    You can also try solar powered panels which will use the sun's rays to illuminate the servers and make them more efficient in summer.

    To save on costs, you can always use renewable sources of energy like this [xeof.net].

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @02:52PM (#32892234) Homepage

    Maybe the way to cut energy consumption is to dump unnecessary "Web 2.0" junk. Serving static pages is very cheap. Is it really necessary to generate the pages on your site from some "content management system" which makes multiple database accesses just to display essentially the same page over and over?

    • In any but the smallest and most naive deployments, or situations where pages do, in fact, have to be generated dynamically because they are substantially unique per-user, the use of CMS caching is already commonplace.

      In the most extreme cases, the user will actually treat the CMS system, running on an internal dev box, as essentially a glorified HTML editor; an easy way to get consistent style and working navigation links on all the pages you write, and then push the static output of the CMS to the actu
      • by dbIII (701233)

        In any but the smallest and most naive deployments

        Many places would fit that criteria, usually all you want the client to see is your list of services and contact details. With a lot of detail that's still only a few megabytes of static pages plus whatever images you want people to see.
        If you're not actually providing shopping carts, order tracking etc what is going to change daily anyway?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        More commonly, the actual CMS will be online; but there will be some caching of output. Particularly with memory so cheap, hammering the DB every time a new user shows up or refreshes doesn't make any sense at all unless the page has actually changed recently.

        Even using good old Drupal you can set up syndication such that whatever you publish to your test server gets syndicated to the published one. You can make it show up on the test page without "publishing" (a checkbox for article state) or you can use some other means to mark articles for syndication, it's easy to add a checkbox to a node type. And of course, even Drupal caches aggressively.

        Probably the last area where energy management really still sucks is your basic giant-cube-farm-o'-enterprise-desktops use case [...] centralized power management of XP boxes is surprisingly shit, I had no idea it would be such a pain in the ass before I was involved in a project attempting it

        Yeah well, Windows is the problem. If your devices support WoL and you kick off updates from the machines, updating the

    • by Stormie (708)
      If this Slashdot article had been a static page, not only would it have been cheaper to serve, but you wouldn't have had the opportunity to post your asinine comment.
  • Both? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 2obvious4u (871996) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @02:56PM (#32892270)

    Even as some projects choose to go green, other data center operators insist that improved power efficiency offers a far better return and carbon impact that pursuing on-site renewables.

    Why is it that everything must be polarized. Why aren't we doing both? Both are good and they are not exclusive.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Money, you have $X to get $Y compute units and a place to put them. To go green you either spend more on efficiency or green power or some mix of the two. This is way less about environmental green and more about green that you can spend though. Data Centers have always tried to reduce their power bills. Every watt you save is two more you don't have to use for cooling, and a ~1VA you don't need in UPS.

  • If you have a lower power draw and solar/wind power, it makes it a bit easier to last though power outages without having to fire up the generator.

  • A datacenter running on its own renewables would be doing something like growing trees on the roof and then burning them, or using waste heat to drive algae scum units and then oil-ifying them, etc. Otherwise you are harvesting/harnessing other sources of energy (wind, solor) or simply pumping your energy into the ground, which you are thus warming up (geothermal cooling). Wind and solar are not renewable per se, they're merely abundant and not terribly efficient to use.
  • Imagine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by codepunk (167897) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @03:27PM (#32892628)

    Imagine the fuel savings if every office worker that was able could telecommute instead of burning fuel to get to a job that could be done from home. Imagine the money saved on road maintenance and other things associated with the reduction in traffic. For at least the last 15 years I have commuted back and forth every day to perform a job I could have done without ever leaving my home.

    • by Hylandr (813770)
      Imagine also the savings on your wardrobe by not having to dress every day for work.

      Makes conference calls a lot more entertaining too.

      Just don't get caught snoring on the floor during the latest patent read. :)

      - Dan.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by cj_nologic (1649427)

      Imagine the fuel savings if every office worker that was able could telecommute instead of burning fuel to get to a job that could be done from home. Imagine the money saved on road maintenance and other things associated with the reduction in traffic. For at least the last 15 years I have commuted back and forth every day to perform a job I could have done without ever leaving my home.

      Most office workers would be incapable of working from home all the time - partly from lack of motivation, partly from lack of social interaction. A lot of face to face meetings are pretty important too, and much as they are laughed at, water fountain conversations are where a lot of personal and business relationships are fostered.

      The real alternative would be if people lived close to their offices and walked or cycled in every day. It would improve fitness, but also improve communities. In my country l

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It amazes me to see how people will drive 10 miles to the sports center, cycle 20 miles on an exercise bike in an air-conditioned room under strip lights, then drive 10 miles back. WTF?

        So... I'm going to post this anonymously, because I'm one of these people, and kind of embarrassed about it, but I think that behavior is perfectly explainable. I know I need exercise, and I feel better when I get it, but I don't love doing it. So, given the choice between spending 40 minutes on a road bike when the temperature is 90+ outside, and spending 40 minutes on an indoor exercise bike in a nicely air conditioned environment where I can listen to some music... well, I'll take the A/C. If it helps

        • heya,

          Yeah, I have to say I don't get these people either. Personally, I dislike the idea of gyms for treadmills/bikes, unless there really is no room to run/exercise outside (other sorts of exercise obviously it makes sense).

          My bestfriend is like that, I normally hates gyms, but she seems to like the idea of going there to run on a treadmill, yet loathes the idea of jogging for 15 minutes to get to the gym.

          Or another friend, I play tennis with her, and she drives - I kid you not - literally 340 metres, arou

    • Hallelujah!! I think this every day when i drive to work. Im an electrical engineer, could quite easily sit at home and create calculation records etc. Instead i drive to my cube farm every day and sit at a computer the whole day.. I probably only have about 20 minutes worth of face to face interaction with other engineers which could quite easily be done with teleconference.

      I actually spend more time chatting with other engineers on messenger who are sitting in the cubicle next to me than i do spend ch

    • Re:Imagine (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JumpDrive (1437895) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @05:53PM (#32894020)
      This has been going on for a long time. The current problem is that nobody thinks you work when you are at home. Here we have people who actually come in and put their head on their desk, but they are deemed good employees because they show up.

      Basically it boils down to management. Usually it is deemed that you have to visually see the people to know they are working, otherwise you would have to know what they are working on to determine whether they are working effectively.
    • by pspahn (1175617)

      I, too, generally have to drive 40 minutes each way to work to do a job that I could do quicker and cheaper from home.

      It's coming around, though. I have shown everyone that I can access our ancient POS system remotely from my laptop, and can even access (though it's pretty crude because of no keyboard) it from my phone.

    • by MtViewGuy (197597)

      While it sounds like a laudable idea, many office workers cannot telecommute because they deal with highly proprietary data or data that if compromised could have serious privacy implications. At where I currently work (the California Franchise Tax Board), any privacy breaches can result not only in your termination, but also could face serious fines AND jail time, too--I have to follow a lot of strict policies in regards to protecting taxpayer data.

  • An Efficient Office (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrSteve007 (1000823) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @03:42PM (#32892790)
    I manage and operate one of the more efficient office spaces in the US (I was awarded a National EnergyStar award in 2008 for my work). We've implemented almost everything possible for our small server racks. We've gone from 8 machines to 3 via virtualization, and have a 10kW array and 40kw battery backup for our operation - which now results in zero down time. In doing just that, we've gone from 58 kWh used from the grid a day for our servers to zero (the PV array supports it). Also, instead of using dedicated A/C - we've re-engineered our ductwork to pull in ambient air from the office space, and redirect the hot exhaust to different locations. During the summer, it's dumped directly outside - and during the winter it's used to heat our entrances and used to cover the heating needs of the building at night.

    In terms of energy use for the servers and A/C alone, we're saving about $4,000 a year - and that's just for a small server arrangement.

    http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=labeled_buildings.showProfile&profile_id=1008052 [energystar.gov]
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      So many years would it take to break even?

      Not criticizing I would love to do something like that. I am currently trying to go to glycol on the roof for cooling instead of our current dumping water down the drain solution.

      • by MrSteve007 (1000823) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @07:02PM (#32894466)
        While it seems like a shifty answer, it all depends on how you calculate return on investment . . .

        Without any tricky accounting, the simple ROI of the PV array is about 12 years. If you calculate the ROI based on the PV and battery backup, factoring lack of downtime, in our case it was closer to an 18 month ROI. For us, each hour of downtime translates to roughly $5,000 of lost earnings. It doesn't take too many hours of backup power to pay off. Of course we could have gone with a gas generator for a much cheaper installation cost, but the tax benefits of a PV array for a corporation can be very attractive.

        As for the virtualization, that was based more on the regular 5 year replacement cycle we have on our hardware. Instead of replacing 5 old servers with 5 new servers, it was much more simple and cost effective to build out one powerful machine and virtualize the existing machines.

        The cost of the ductwork and fan was about $1,500 - however our A/C unit consumed roughly $1,000 a year to cool the space, so an 18 month ROI. Of course, it's all dependent on your climate, building layout, age of equipment and ease of installation. For us, it's worked out well. We've now achieved a 75% reduction over our baseline from 3 years ago in our grid energy needs, while increasing processing power, lighting levels, and maintaining a comfortable climate controlled office.

        http://jbdg.com/results.html [jbdg.com]
    • by djdevon3 (947872)
      I really like that idea. Using hot air is easy because there's plenty generated. It's how to use the cold air most efficiently that is the hardest thing to do. Very nice concept. I wouldn't mind reading an article on it. Have you posted the practical application to a blog or something like that?
    • You're my hero Mr. Steve. I work in a huge data centre in Canada and it always amazes me to no end when they a/c the data centre to conteract the building heat they're blowing in to keep out the winter cold. It's a hole mess of inefficient. However, it must be pretty difficult to retrofit an ancient and huge data centre.
  • In the long run, being more efficient at *burning coal* just isn't environmentally-friendly. DataCenter Knowledge's article follows our own on the Environmental Impact of the Internet: http://cartanova.ca/green-community-blog/item/71-the-environmental-impact-of-the-internet [cartanova.ca] We quote them, so I'm guessing they saw it and posted their article. (although they have an excellent series of pieces addressing this issue already). In short, things don't look so good for the earth these days (but you already knew
  • blog [blogspot.com], HP had published an academic paper about combining a data-center and farm, using biomass for local farms to power the servers in your server farm. Note however that transmission line and contenting to a the grid, don't cost very much in terms of efficiency (1 per cent, probably), or electricity price rate (is biomass cheaper than wind or sun, right now? varies with the weather doesn't it).
  • The only way to solve this in the long run is to address the source of the problem (instead of making use of extra heat or improving efficiency) and make the Data Centers actually run on clean power.

    Iceland has the uniqueness of having a 100% reneable electricity power grid (probably the only country?) and there are several Data Center projects ongoing making use of that such as Verne Global [verneglobal.com].

    On top of this infrastructure there is also a startup building what will be the first Truly Green Cloud Computing

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