The Next Step In Computer Powering
Nov. 5, 2007 -- If the traffic and housing weren't problem enough, some large Silicon Valley companies are now building outside the area because they can't get enough electricity. An EPA report says energy use by data centers has doubled in the last 4 years, and could double again in the next 5. Richard Hart takes a tour with the authors of the report.
A popular destination on Google Earth, is Google's own gigantic data farm -- on the banks of Oregon's mighty Columbia River. Yahoo, Microsoft and Intuit are migrating to the neighborhood, too, because power is cheap and plentiful here. And energy consumption is a thorn in the side of the information business.
"We estimate that the energy use of data centers is about 1 1/2 percent of all US electricity use -- a significant fraction. It's a concern because of our electrical grid, the stresses that are placed on it, as well as the environmental impacts," said Richard Brown, Energy Policy Analyst.
Half the energy powering computers is wasted as heat, which you can see rising above this scientific supercomputer.
Computer data centers are among the nosiest buildings in the world. And all of the noise you're hearing is the cooling system.
Typically, refrigerated air blows from the floor, the computer towers suck it in one side and blow it out the other. And it is like walking past a blow dryer. The air inside can be more than 100 degrees.
"In the old days it was OK to mix a lot of cool air, and the equipment would be fine, it would get cooled. Now that it's getting more intense and more energy intensive, you can't do it that way anymore," said Bill Tschudi, Project Leader, Lawrence Berkeley Lab.
So Bill Tschudi and his team turned this entire section of the National Energy Research Supercomputer into a laboratory to test new ways to chill the data monster.
One surprise candidate for a solution is Direct Current instead of AC power. Another is these huge fans Cray now installs in the floor of its computers. And an innovation called Virtualization enables one computer to do the job of many servers.
The NERSC center already is one of the world's most efficient. In addition, some of the biggest names have formed the Climate Savers Computing Initiative to cut server energy in half within 2 years. Brown says the trick is to avoid regulations that could strangle the nation's most important industry. That's a rock and a hard place, and, for now, a river runs through it. The Columbia River.
Even the National Energy Research Center is moving its data servers into the Berkeley hills to ensure more electricity. And, yes, those Lawrence Berkeley Lab supercomputers were painted Cal blue-and-gold.
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