Software tracks electricity prices, saves data center money

A smart-routing algorithm weighs physical distance of data transfer and energy cost-differential to slash energy consumption by 40%.


An Internet-routing algorithm that tracks electricity price fluctuations could save data-hungry companies millions of dollars each year in electricity costs, according to MIT Technology Review . A study from researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT ), Carnegie Mellon University , and the networking company Akamai suggests that such Internet businesses could reduce their energy use by as much as 40% by rerouting data to locations where electricity prices are lowest on a particular day.

Asfandyar Qureshi , a doctoral student at MIT, first outlined the idea of a smart routing algorithm that would track electricity prices to reduce costs. The researchers analyzed 39 months of electricity price data collected for 29 major U.S. cities. Energy prices fluctuate for a variety of reasons, including seasonal changes in supply, fuel price hikes, and changes in consumer demand, and the researchers saw a surprising amount of volatility, even among geographically close locations.

The team then devised a routing scheme designed to take advantage of daily and hourly fluctuations in electricity costs across the country. The resulting algorithm weighs up the physical distance needed to route information-because it's more expensive to move data farther-against the likely cost savings from reduced energy use. In the best scenario, where energy use is proportional to computing, a company could slash its energy consumption by 40%.
Spiraling energy consumption has become a major concern for the world's largest Web companies; a report published by McKinsey & Co. and the Uptime Institute in July 2008 estimates that data center energy usage will quadruple during the next decade in the absence of efforts to improve efficiency. The pressure to reduce costs and curb emissions is forcing data center managers to radically rethink design and management. Google recently built a data center in Belgium that relies entirely on ambient cooling and transfers its computing load to other facilities on warm days. The smart-routing algorithm is an extension of the idea to transfer loads to save energy.
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