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3 Data Center Projects That’ll Give DOE the Biggest Bang for Its Buck

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Stimulus funding for data center operators has finally arrived. Fourteen projects are divvying up $47 million in U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) funds to improve data center energy efficiency. The move comes at a crucial point for the IT industry as cloud computing takes off, prompting several companies to rapidly build out capacity in anticipation of all those cloud-based apps, services and data.

Below I’ve narrowed the list to the three projects and their related companies that stand the best chance of delivering the biggest bang for the DoE’s buck.


Yahoo took the biggest chunk of the funds at $9.9 million, but that’s not the reason it is included in this list. The company intends to create a “next-generation passive cooling design for data centers” in Lockport, N.Y. If it sounds familiar, that’s because Lockport is the site of Yahoo’s massive build in the region, so the allocation of DoE funding dovetails nicely with a project that’s already in progress. Expect the new windfall to help validate Yahoo’s low-cost “chicken coop” design approach to maximizing free-cooling and provide further insights into situating data centers in regions serviced by hydro-electric power. If the funds help deliver a PUE of 1.1 as Yahoo anticipates, it’s money well spent.


Somewhat befitting its ambitious goal, this startup took in second largest amount of funds at $9.3 million.  What makes SeaMicro stand apart? It seeks to reduce server power consumption up to 75 percent by none other than “re-architecting server components,” which the company plans to accomplish this feat by packing hundreds of tiny, low-power processors into volume servers.

I know you’re thinking that multiprocessor systems are nothing new, but this startup, backed by Khosla Ventures, Draper Fischer, and Crosslink Capital, is clearly onto something. Details are scant, but judging by the sheer number of CPUs involved in SeaMicro’s current method of using hundreds of Intel Atom processors, it could result in systems that offer new levels of granularity in allocating processing power and can more efficiently “right-size” computing workloads. What’s more, the timing is perfect since the IT community has recently been willing to explore non-standard server approaches, as the buzz (and interest) generated by Google’s “batteries included” server design shows.

Power Assure

This Santa Clara, Calif.-based power management company took in just over $5 million to prove that big energy savings are possible with smart server power management. It’s not the newest or most cutting-edge concept — especially among the 14 stimulus fund recipients — but it’s one that can cut energy costs by up to 50 percent.  Right now, many businesses have servers that are periodically or seldom used, usually invoked for batch processing jobs or accounting and HR functions that take place only a few times a year.  While these are the most blatant vampire power suckers of the data center, simply turning them off could have disastrous, if unintended, results. Power Assure is developing software to turn these formerly “always on” servers into “always available” systems that power up on a few moments’ notice, matching power consumption to work that the server is actually performing.

What sets the three “winners” apart is that these projects arrive at a time when the market is open to new approaches (like SeaMicro) or are poised deliver substantive, near-term benefits (like Yahoo and Power Assure). If the 2010’s are to become the decade of a cloud-fueled IT resurgence, the industry is going to need new approaches, and fast.

Question of the week

Did the DoE back the right green computing projects?