DOE Funds Data Center Efficiency Research

Julius Neudorfer

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today that the Department of Energy is awarding $47 million for 14 projects across the country "to support the development of new technologies that can improve energy efficiency in the information technology (IT) and communication technology sectors.'
Under the DOE's Industrial Technologies Program (ITP), the grants will fund three areas of study.

  • Equipment & Software
  • Power Supply Chain 
  • Cooling

While the award details have not been finalized, the participants have been selected and the funds allocated. They range from commercial firms such as HP and IBM to educational institutions such as the California Institute of Technology and Columbia University. Even Yahoo! will receive $9.9 million.

In addition to the $47 million to be provided the government, private industry will provide $70 million, for an aggregate of $117 million to fund the research.

The areas of efficiency studies will include 'Reducing Energy Loss from Power Conversion' (AC vs DC power distribution within the data center), 'Reducing Volume-Server Energy Use by Re-Architecting Server Components,' and a variety of direct cooling projects using technologies and techniques for IT equipment via liquid cooling, with even device-level cooling (the CPUs, etc.) via refrigerant-based cooling. The projects promise a hoped-for energy savings ranging from 10 percent to 75 percent; obviously, the actual results will vary.

Secretary Chu said:

"These Recovery Act projects will improve the efficiency of a strong and growing sector of the American economy. By reducing energy use and energy costs for the IT and telecommunications industries, this funding will help create jobs and ensure the sector remains competitive,"  "The expected growth of these industries means that new technologies adopted today will yield benefits for many years to come."

So what does all this mean to the average data center user or operator? Initially, not much. However, since there are some major IT equipment vendors such as HP and IBM directly involved, hopefully the next generation of IT equipment will see substantial improvements in efficiency. One of the most recent (and in my opinion, successful) government and commercial collaborations resulted in the Energy Star for Servers v1.0 standard, which should significantly improve the energy efficiency of most 'commodity' servers shipped this year. Oddly, though, there were no major manufacturers of the data center infrastructure, power and cooling systems.

So while the government and private industry invest in research to improve future data centers and IT systems, we should all try to do what we can today in our existing sites.

Remember that every KW saved powering the IT equipment in the average data center (average of 2.0 PUE) will result in two KW saved overall. And since we all live in a 7x24 world, that potentially results in 17.5 Mega Watt Hours saved per year. While we wait for the results of the research, look at your existing systems. I am sure that you can find some areas that can be improved at little or no cost.

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