Green:Net: Innovating to Reduce Energy Consumption of Computing

As information technology begins to improve energy efficiency in industries such as transportation and electricity generation, it will grow to consume ever more energy. Because of this Bill Weihl, Green Energy Czar at Google, says the industry has a responsibility to focus on making sure its own data centers are as efficient as possible. He noted that data centers could contribute 18 percent of the world greenhouse gasses by 2020.

As part of this commitment to renewable energy he relayed some commonsense tips on reducing the non-IT costs associated with a data center, such as cooling. He also explained that the search giant has applied for permission to buy and sell power on the public market from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as a move designed to help it support renewable energy generation.

“The primary reason we asked for it was to give us flexibility in procuring energy for our facilities,” Weihl said. Google buys power contracts from utilities for multiyear time frames, but if a company came to it and wanted to build a wind farm near one of its data centers, Google wants the flexibility to sign a long-term contract with the wind farm provider that would help it get off the ground, but then resell the power from the existing utility contract so it doesn’t lose money.

Aside from the flexibility to buy and sell power so it can promote renewable energy, Weihl talked about the low-hanging fruit that it took advantage of inside the data center. He says in specially designed data centers Google has achieved a PUE of 1.2 and in others a PUE of 1.5. PUE is a measurement of how efficient a data center is. The goal is to arrive at a PUE of 1. Currently many data centers have a PUE of 2. Here’s how to reduce that number, according to Weihl.

  1. Keep hot and cold separate — Google uses hot aisle containment. It uses metal end caps and plastic curtains to keep aisles┬áseparate.
  2. Turn up the heat — Google keeps its temp at 80 degrees, but keep an eye out for hot spots through measuring the temperature.
  3. Give chillers a rest — Use cooling towers, fresh air and other ways to avoid turning on the A/C.

Google does other things, such as using containerized data centers, optimizing its code to run more efficiently, and myriad other tricks, but the three items above are easy for others to implement.

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