According to a blog from Steve Kester, Director of Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs at chip-maker AMD, the company is working on a project that could make data centre operations more energy efficient, cost effective and environmentally sustainable.
Kester says that AMD has been working on reducing the power consumption of servers in data centres for a long time. The current project is a partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Clarkson University, HP, and others. Driven by AMD’s External Research Office, the project is aimed at creating a distributed network of containerised data centres, such as HP’s energy efficient Performance Optimized Datacenter (POD) products, that are powered by carbon-free renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
The data centres will be locating close to the wind turbines or solar arrays to improve the power transmission efficiency. By linking the data centres together with fibre optic data lines, information can be moved between them to take advantage of available renewable power. For example, if a wind-powered data centre was unable to operate due to low wind velocity its workload could be transferred to a solar-powered data centre that is getting plenty of sunshine.
According to Kester, moving bytes on fibre optic lines is more efficient and cheaper than moving electricity on transmission lines. The cost of fibre optic line installation is between $10,000-$30,000 per mile compared to power transmission line costs of up to $1m per mile. A saving for the power generator, the utilities and the data centre operators.
The first stage is a feasibility study which is being led by Clarkson university and due to complete in 2012. After that a demonstration project will be built to serve as a laboratory for testing different types of computer hardware, software, power supplies, energy storage and other equipment.
There are some resonances here with the report at the end of November that Dominion Energy Technologies has invested $1m in US data centre energy management software company Power Assure. Dominion Energy is an affiliate of Dominion Resources, one of the largest producers and transporters of energy in the US.
By way of explaining the move, I said at the time that “One of the main reasons for needing smart grids is that renewable energy is increasingly part of the power mix. The grid needs to be able to accommodate a variety of variable inputs from these sources as well as better matching demand with supply, for example through the use of demand response tariffs, i.e. cheaper power at off-peak times when renewable energy is plentiful.
Given the power consumed by data centres, they may well be significant players in this smart grid future. For example, data centres could schedule their work to take advantage of favourable off-peak tariffs. Companies with multiple data centres could dynamically switch the computing load between locations to take advantage of tariffs elsewhere. Applications can already be easily and seamlessly switched between locations”.
AMD’s idea is a more direct version. By using modular data centres placed next to the actual renewable energy sources and interconnected by fast communications lines, the data centres can maximise the renewable energy use as well as benefitting from low tariffs when power is abundant.
Perhaps this is what Facebook should really be aiming for (see yesterday’s post)?