I’ve been asked a few times recently about our position on “green tech” and more specifically The Green Grid. Are we a member? Are we working on green tech. Does utility computing have a roll to play?
My answer always starts with “how much time do you have?”
We are VERY concerned about the power that data centers consume. It’s both socially responsible and makes both good business sense for our partners. Plus, frankly, discussing mega-watts with our partners sometimes gets a little surreal. When I grew up 10MW was a power plant. Now it’s just a data center upgrade.
That said, however, projects like the Green Grid, IMHO, are more marketing than substance at the moment.
Recently their ’08 road map was covered by GreenerComputing:
” . . . the Green Grid plans to start conducting three studies this year to document existing energy efficiency standards and metrics, update its current study on data center efficiency metrics, and identify the requirements for collecting and aggregating data center power consumption data.”
Certainly those studies are worthwhile, but 3tera’s participation would have little impact there. Rather, we’re working in the trenches. And that’s why I ask folks how much time they have before starting this conversation. It’s also why this will be just the first post in a thread on this topic.
At the core of the problem of data center power use is a fundamental assumption – that human beings interact with servers.
If you question that assumption take a look at Sun’s Project Black Box. A third of the space is dedicated to a hallway. Why?
Because it’s assumed that users will want to walk in and work on the servers. Everything in the standard data center environment today is driven from this single assumption and it has huge implications.
Consider HVAC for instance. It’s commonly accepted that a great deal of energy is consumed to keep data centers cool because it’s necesary for the reliable operation of the servers. That’s not really true. Yes, if we turned the air conditioning off servers would start failing, but that’s not the whole picture. Most components in the server, especially critical high power components like processors, would run much better at lower temperatures than are maintained in the data center. In reality, the temperature of the data center is set more for human comfort than for efficient and reliable operation of the servers. Once you’ve digested that little nugget you can tackle the question of whether air is really the best operating environment for electrical components. We’ll deal with that in a future post.
Breaking the assumption that human beings need to interact with servers in any way is at the heart of utility computing, and this step is critical to moving forward with green data ceners (if that isn’t an oxy moron). Once free of that concept, the power savings that can be realized won’t be ten percent or twenty percent, but rather an order of magnitude. It’ll take years and numerous companies working together but the course will be set.
So, yes, I do see 3tera as having a role in green tech and we’re thinking about it and working on it everyday. In the coming weeks I’ll post on some comming features directly addressing power usage plus a few more thoughts on what comes next.