Future data centers won't need HVAC, lighting

Experts predict that the future data centers will need less concrete, more green power, and less climate control.

03/21/2011


The efficiency of cloud computing goes hand-in-glove with data center efficiency. As cloud computing becomes popular for its business efficiency and environmental benefits, leaders in the industry are discussing the next step in data center evolution: no data centers at all.

At a recent Climate One event in San Francisco, Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard said that the future of the data center is to have no data centers. This follows on Bernard's presentation at the GreenBiz State of Green Business Forum in San Francisco last month, where he showed this picture of a canopy-covered server and dubbed it "the data center of the future."

What he means is that the huge physical structure of a data center –all the concrete, all the HVAC and lighting–all of that will go away in favor of lighter, less carbon-intensive, and more flexible computing systems. The canopy-covered servers ran for the better part of a year without needing any maintenance, a fact that illustrates just how many changes can be put in place in the data center.

Christian Belady, who was one of the creators of the power usage effectiveness (PUE) metric, has been instrumental through his work with the Green Grid in shaping the future metrics of data center sustainability, notably water usage effectiveness  (WUE) and carbon usage effectiveness (CUE). Belady said that Microsoft's work on dematerializing the data center has helped to almost eliminate the use of water in their facilities.

That's made possible in part by siting data centers where they can use outside air cooling, but also in the steady increase of acceptable temperatures in compute facilities.

Another issue in creating green data centers is green power. A data center could be almost perfectly efficient, from a PUE standpoint, but if it is powered by coal it will still have a huge carbon footprint.

Google and Microsoft have both built enormous data centers in Washington state, where low-carbon hydropower is cheap and abundant. Microsoft has special parameters for its data center sites: they must be 500 miles from a large number of users, and at the same time use the greenest power possible. Bernard said the problem was that "there simply aren't enough Quincys," referring to the Washington town where Microsoft's data center resides.

Both Microsoft and Google are investing in clean technologies, whether it's buying or building highly efficient servers or investing in green energy companies. But big obstacles remain to making world-changing progress on green IT.

Read more at GreenBiz.com.

- Edited by Bettina Chang, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, www.csemag.com