A Greener Internet with Energy-Aware Data Routing Algorithms

datacenter routers servers photo

Photo: Flickr, CC
Energy Cost Savings Could Turn Into CO2 Reductions
Researchers at MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and the internet caching company Akamai (which is caching TreeHugger) released a study that shows how large internet companies with many power-hungry data centers could save a significant amount of money by using an algorithm that would track electricity prices and switch traffic to data centers where the cost is lowest. This sounds good when it comes to saving cash, but this concept could also be used to reduce the environmental footprint of the internet.
datacenter routers servers photo

Photo: Flickr, CC

Here's how the routing algorithm would work:

The team then devised a routing scheme designed to take advantage of daily and hourly fluctuations in electricity costs across the country. The resulting algorithm weighs up the physical distance needed to route information--because it's more expensive to move data further--against the likely cost savings from reduced energy use. Data collected from nine Akamai servers, covering 24 days of activity, provided a way to test the routing scheme using real-world data. The team found that, in the best scenario--one in which energy use is proportional to computing--a company could slash its energy consumption by 40 percent.

The problem with this is that the cheapest energy is often coal. So the problem with this kind of algorithm is that it could actually make the internet more coal-powered.

Green Internet Routing
A green version of this routing program might take into account electric costs and latency requirements, but also how clean the source of that electricity is and how much surplus of it there is at the moment.

For example, a company with many datacenters might have some buildings in an area where there is lots of solar power available on sunny days, and some in an area where there is lots of wind power available on windy days. On a sunny day it could redirect traffic to the former, while on a windy day it could redirect to the latter. On a day when there isn't much clean energy available (dark and windless), it could redirect to wherever the energy's cheapest (hopefully hydro and not coal).

Not all traffic could be redirected that way because sometimes you need the lowest latency, but any traffic moved from a "dirtier" datacenter to a "cleaner" one would be an improvement, at least until the day when 100% of the electricity on the grid is coming from clean sources.

But before that can happen, we'll probably need a higher price on carbon and/or cheaper renewables (both solar and wind are making progress, and should pick up the pace when financing for big projects becomes available again).

Via Technology Review
See also: Saving Energy in Data Centers with Smart Sensors and Algorithms
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