Saving Energy in Data Centers with Smart Sensors and Algorithms

Data Center Servers photo

U.S. Servers and Data Centers Gobbled Up 61 billion kWh in 2006
We're now firmly in an interconnected and digital world, and that means lots and lots of servers. The EPA wrote a report for the US Congress about it in 2006, and they estimated that servers and data centers represented about 1.5% of total electricity usage in the country for that year. That's 61 billion (with a 'b') kilowatt-hours, and that's for 2006, back when most people were just starting to discover Youtube. It's probably more now.

Of course, lots of power means lots of money, so there's clearly an incentive to become more energy efficient. Microsoft Research's Networked Embedded Computing group is working on a very promising concept: A combination of physical sensors in the server room and software algorithms to make individual computers sleep or wake up depending on demand.

Data Center Servers photo

How this Technology Works to Make Server Rooms more Energy Efficient
The sensors monitor the servers to make sure they're not being overcooled (a common problem in data centers, he says, since people often set the cooling system conservatively, to protect the equipment). In addition, the sensor system watches for hot spots, which can make the air-conditioning system work inefficiently. This information is then used by the load-skewing algorithms. Knowing that you want to shut down 400 servers is one thing. The sensor helps determine which ones to shut down.

So when demand is lower, the algorithms know that they can power down a certain number of servers. There's a lot of savings right there. But it's the sensors that make the system smart enough to power down the right servers to maximize savings, making the air conditioning work more efficiently (about half of the energy used by a data center is for cooling).

Data Center Servers photo

The Future of Data Centers
If the past is any indication, we'll find new uses for all that computing and storage that technology is bringing us, and the number of servers required (especially as developing countries come online) will keep growing. Many strategies will need to be used to make them as clean as possible; cleaning up the power grid is the most obvious way, but the bucket has so many holes that plugging them (increasing efficiency) is a low hanging fruit. A combination of renewables and efficiency will bring the best results.

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