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Scientist Touts Big Efficiency Improvement For Data Center Cooling

The co-founder of Microway claims he developed a system that reduces the amount of energy required to cool data centers up to 50%.
A former defense scientist has figured out how to use satellite technology to cool data centers, and he has reported unprecedented results.

Stephen Fried, CTO and co-founder of Microway, a manufacturer of high-end servers and InfiniBand connectivity, said he has proof of concept for a new provisionally patented cooling system. Fried was generating a little buzz and some venture capital interest for his invention at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association trade show in New York City this week.

The breakthrough is significant in an industry focused on saving energy to cut costs, increasing the efficiency of high-powered data systems, and going green, while adding more and more processors.

Fried, who has a background in space technology and chemical engineering, will not release all of the details yet, but he would say that ammonia is part of the equation. He claims he has proven that the system reduces the amount of energy required to cool data centers up to 50%. Ammonia won't damage computer and data center components, he said.

"It just smells when it leaks," he said, adding that the odor is not necessarily a bad thing since it would serve as a warning.

If Fried's system proves popular, as Microway's products have, the impact could be huge.

According to a recent study by Jonathan Koomey, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and consulting professor at Stanford University, the energy consumed by data center servers, cooling equipment, and related infrastructure more than doubled from 2000 to 2005. The study, backed by Advanced Micro Devices, found that the growing popularity of Web content is driving an increase in server numbers. Servers account for 90% of the increased power consumption, according to the study.

The total electricity bill to operate data center servers and related infrastructure equipment in the United States was $2.7 billion in 2005, compared with $1.3 billion in 2000. Worldwide, the total bill was $7.2 billion in 2005, compared with $3.2 billion in 2000.

According to Koomey, U.S. data center power consumption in 2005 rose to about five 1,000-megawatt power plants, the equivalent of five typical nuclear power plants, and accounted for 0.6% of all electricity consumed in the United States in 2005. With infrastructure, networks, and cooling systems, the percentage rises to 1.2%, the amount of energy consumed for television sets.

By 2005, data centers worldwide housed about 27.3 million servers, up from 14.1 million servers in 2000.

Fried says that 40% of the energy used to cool data centers is used to remove water vapor from the air and then put it back in. His methodology employs liquid cooling, without the need for chilled water quick disconnects to replace failed nodes.

Fried said his system will also enable future use of CPUs, which reject several hundred watts of energy. He hopes to get the cost down around $50 per CPU through mass manufacturing.