Data centres looking for ways to save energy


Microsoft recently committed itself to using alternative energy sources for 50 per cent of its data centre power requirements. 

By “alternative”, of course, it means “renewable”, or “green”, and any other trendy word you might want to use to describe energy that is generated through wind, solar and other sources which do not pollute the atmosphere anywhere near as much as fossil fuels do.

Microsoft is not the only company to take such a decision. Apple has also committed to making all its data centres run on 100 per cent clean energy, and even claims that some of its facilities already use only renewables.

While it may seem like an environmentally responsible thing to do, which it is, the real motivation for switching to green energy is, arguably, money: oil, gas and all the other “traditional” fuels and systems for generating power are becoming so expensive that they could undermine large companies’ profit margins.

And given that there are data centres being built all the time, and causing concern among the general populace, it seems socially and politically sensible to respond to the complaints that they use up too much electricity by tapping into clean energy.

At the same time as using renewable sources, making servers and other equipment more energy-efficient is also of critical importance.

One of the ways this is increasingly achieved is through systems which can organise the hardware and software in a way that maximises energy use.

Google, for example, claims its DeepMind artificial intelligence system can save 40 per cent on data centre energy costs. Google is another of the big companies which has committed to 100 per cent renewable sources for its data centres.

EkkoSoft, meanwhile, claims its system can save data centres 19 per cent on energy costs.

While the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and others may be able to build their own servers with energy-efficiency in mind, most data centres would be looking for servers and other hardware which are as energy-efficient as possible.

And to this end, companies are building systems which can be useful to data centre managers in their ongoing and increasingly important role as the person who goes around switching all unused plug sockets off.

One example is the “breakthrough” claimed by Aligned Energy, in partnership with Climeon.

As reports, the two companies have developed a system which converts the wasted heat from hardware at data centres into electricity.

If it works, not only could it cool data centres efficiently, it would obviously create a virtuous cycle of energy wherein the data centre powers itself, in part at least.

Jakob Carnemark says: “We have entered a new era of innovation in how we power and cool data centers, one of the fastest-growing users of energy and water in today’s digital economy.

“In most cases if you want to use clean electricity, converting solar and wind power are the typical methods; however, the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

“By cultivating this largely untapped resource in waste heat and converting it to 100 per cent stable green baseload power, and by being able to use low temperature geothermal sources, we can support the data center industry’s rising demand for green energy in ways not previously possible through this new, highly sustainable and reliable approach.”

The US government estimates that the country’s data centres use approximately 3 per cent of the total power output of the national grid.

The US Department of Energy has been advising data centres to become more energy efficient, suggesting apparently simple things such as incorporating features like power-saving “stand-by” modes, energy monitoring software, and efficient cooling systems instead of standard air conditioning.

“Compared to a traditional data center of a similar size, this data center uses 81 per cent less energy,” claims the DoE.