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Summary:

The first step in any data center efficiency project is to figure out the problem. After all, analyst Katherine Austin says in a GigaOM Pro report (subscription required), “You can’t control what you don’t monitor.” And one of the chief ways that startups are addressing the […]

datacenter2The first step in any data center efficiency project is to figure out the problem. After all, analyst Katherine Austin says in a GigaOM Pro report (subscription required), “You can’t control what you don’t monitor.” And one of the chief ways that startups are addressing the green data center market is to help data center operators fill this energy blind spot with wireless technology.

In her report, “Green Data Center Design: Strategies & Players,” Austin explores the vital role of wireless energy monitoring and management systems, not only as a means of kicking off power-saving IT strategies, but also to sustain those efficiencies over the long haul. One of the primary reasons to adopt a wireless monitoring system is to validate the effectiveness of other green investments like adding on free cooling or running the center a couple degrees hotter. Otherwise, says Austin, “you can implement all these strategies, but you have no way of telling if it’s doing any good.”

That visibility can help data center operators prove their efforts and score financial incentives, points out Austin. For example, Northern California utility PG&E has allocated $50 million to offer rebates for data center operators that cut their energy consumption.

Even without these incentives, the economic rewards of cutting energy consumption in data centers are substantial. Data centers are power-hungry beasts — the electricity used by the world’s servers alone doubled between 2000 and 2005 to about 123 billion kilowatt-hours, and if current trends continue, data center power use is likely to increase another 76 percent by 2010.

Not ones to pass up new market opportunities, technology giants like IBM and HP are maneuvering quickly into the promising green data center design space. Where does that leave startups? Many have elected to provide the wireless building blocks that are connecting control systems and sensors and allow “pinpoint analysis of hotspots,” or power-hungry zones, according to Austin.

HP, for instance, relies on SynapSense for its Environmental Edge monitoring system. SynapSense, a startup launched by Intel’s Peter Van Deventer and UC Davis computer science professor Raju Pandey, makes the wireless sensor technology that feeds power and cooling data to real-time visualization software. Armed with this information, administrators can save power by reducing cooling to levels that allow equipment to operate safely without overheating.

Sentilla, of Redwood City, Calif., takes a different approach. The company’s “Energy Manager for Data Centers” allows IT shops to wirelessly monitor their energy consumption in multi-vendor environments. It accomplishes this with “microcomputers embedded in their power strips that monitor how much energy is going into their server rack,” says Austin.

Wireless sensor networks have been under development for years, and have become relatively cheap and easy to install. That means wireless data center products aren’t very capital-intensive and are an already proven technology, compared with some of the more experimental technologies in other clean tech sectors, like biofuels and electric vehicle batteries. All that makes the technology a good fit for a small startup.

Don’t be surprised to see data center operators increasingly turning to wireless sensor networks to cut energy consumption. It’s an area of low-hanging fruit for a power-hungry industry that — with data center power use set to soar by 76 percent by 2010 — is becoming one of the fastest-growing carbon emitters on the planet.

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  1. Pedro,
    Thanks for the post. Curious how will control system be able to actually reduce energy consumption after it’s been able to monitor and analyze it?

  2. Thanks Dan. HP, IBM and others are working on systems linked to computer room air conditioning (CRAC) controllers that can react to temperature changes in an automated way, like dialing down the AC if servers are running cool enough. Sensors like these help provide the intelligence to guide those actions.

  3. Pedro,

    Good stuff! Greening the data center is a hot topic today – and the fact that WSN’s (wireless sensor networks) can help and are low cost – make them a win-win for both Facilities and IT. Fine grained visibility provides the deep insight that is needed to gather the right data, and finally everyone can figure out what is really going on in the dc. Control will come – but the first step is instrumentation – which for most is now just getting on their to-do list. WSN’s help accelerate this first step. Thanks for making folks aware!

    -Tom

  4. Dr. Raju Pandey Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    Pedro,

    The effectiveness of a control mechanism depends on the accuracy of the system model, and how the model captures changes in the operational conditions. Wireless sensor devices enable a very cost-effective and non-disruptive way of collecting fine-grained sensing information and utilizing this granular information to fine tune the data center and make energy efficiency improvements.

    • Dr. Raju Pandey
      CTO SynapSense
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