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Summary:

What if the energy needed to power data centers could be like the latest episode of “True Blood,” on demand? That’s the idea behind Power Assure, a startup that can ramp up and down the power consumption of data centers to coincide with demand.

What if the energy needed to power data centers could be like the latest episode of “True Blood” — on demand? That’s the idea behind Power Assure, a startup founded three years ago that makes a software-as-a-service product that can ramp up and down the power consumption of data centers to coincide with the demand of its web company users. So, say, in the middle of the night, when few people are pinging its customers’ websites, Power Assure’s service can reduce energy consumption appropriately, and when there’s a sudden spike of traffic in the morning, the service can quickly ramp capacity back up.

Power Assure’s CEO Brad Wurtz tells me that the company built from scratch the software platform to manage server capacity in delicate balance with demand. It’s a novel, if utterly simple, concept given that most data centers are typically using just 10 percent of their capacity, yet running servers and the data center at full power, explains Wurtz. Google has also been working on this problem and published a paper last year that calls for servers to be redesigned and enhanced with software so that they can be as energy efficient when used lightly as they are at maximum use (see my article Google: Servers Should Be More Like People, GigaOM Pro, subscription required).

The key to Power Assure’s technology is the smart algorithms it’s created to monitor and control energy usage in the data center in real time. The company starts out by installing one or two appliances in its customer’s data centers. Those appliances sit on the company’s management network and gather information about the demand of its websites, as well as the power usage of the servers, cooling system and networking gear. Power Assure’s system then uses its algorithms to, in essence, dynamically match the website demand in whatever metric is available (such as cost per click, number of users or number of sessions per minute) to an appropriate level of utilization for the servers, cooling and networking gear.

Of course the first question that springs to mind — both mine and Power Assure’s customers, according to Wurtz — is will the system be able to accommodate a rapid, unanticipated spike in traffic? But Wurtz says that the software also monitors traffic in real time and keeps a buffer of capacity available so that the system has enough time to wake itself up to full capacity. The company lets customers test it out to see that there’s no problem with traffic peaks, says Wurtz.

If it works as advertised — saving 50-60 percent in energy costs and not having a negative impact on service — it could be a killer product. That’s one reason why the company was able to raise a seed round of funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson (see DFJ Managing Director Steve Jurvetson talk about the company in this video clip), and has scored $5 million in grants from the Department of Energy.

Wurtz says the DOE funding was very beneficial in getting other funding and gaining customer trials. The company has also more recently boosted its funding to $10.75 million and is looking to raise another $2.75 million on top of that, according to an SEC filing.

At this point Power Assure has no customers that it will announce publicly, but Wurtz says it has a handful it’s doing trials with government, financial services and Internet firms. And over the next year the company will be working on scaling its technology into commercial deployments.

You might be wondering why data center energy isn’t used on demand already. Well, that’s what I was thinking. Wurtz explained to me that with the growth of data center energy consumption, the problem of energy cost and environmental responsibility has just started to come into the mainstream over the past year. The market for energy efficiency enterprise and computing products has changed dramatically recently, says Wurtz.

To learn more about data center and Internet infrastructure energy use, come to our Structure event on June 23 and 24 in San Francisco, Calif.

For more research on green data centers check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Google: Servers Should Be More Like People

Is Software the Key to Green Data Centers?

Report: Green Data Center Design Strategies

By Katie Fehrenbacher

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