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Data Centers Slash Energy Usage

Modern data centers use open and green tech to respond faster to customer needs while cutting 40% of electricity use.

CES 2015 Preview: 8 Hot Trends
CES 2015 Preview: 8 Hot Trends
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We've become accustomed to watching the rapid evolution of components that go into networking, computing, and storage. Advances in components and much more helped data centers become one of the fastest-evolving areas in 2014.

Power supply and distribution, cooling, and new cloud-oriented server design for data centers have all contributed to the advances. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft have previously been acknowledged as innovators in new, cloud-oriented data center design. But last year, conventional enterprises joined in the innovation implementation. From Fidelity Investment's discrete, one-megawatt-room Centercore data center design to eBay's off-the-grid, self-reliant approach, data centers are now taking forms that are giant steps ahead of their predecessors.

In September, Fidelity opened its second Centercore implementation after introducing a 500-megawatt proof-of-concept in Raleigh, Va. The modules, or steel rooms, can be attached horizontally or stacked vertically, unlike their shipping container predecessors. Adding a just-in-time "core" unit expands the data center by the amount needed, eliminating the need to overbuild for many years ahead.

Fidelity's Centercore design balances compute, networking, and storage in proportions that meet Fidelity's needs, and that's a key element of the new design: It aims to leave no space or available electrical power unused. VP of data centers Eric Wells explained that in older data centers, "we found a lot of stranded power and IT capacity, where the infrastructure couldn't take full advantage of the resources available to it because of a crowding together of the wrong mix of elements." More efficient use of combined resources will lead to an expected 40% savings in electricity, even though the new data center will rely on chillers when necessary, an energy-hungry element eschewed in Facebook's most recent facilities.

[Want more on Facebook's Open Compute Project? See Open Source Cloud Hardware Grows Up Fast.]

The Centercore units can be snapped together like Lego blocks, each with its own power distribution, fire suppression, and security. Sliding doors can open one room to another, or seal it off to the outside.

EBay, on the other hand, concentrated on 100% uptime, survivability, and independence from the power grid when it built its new data center in South Jordan, Utah. Since 2013, it's been generating electricity on site, using fuel cells powered by natural gas. The oil and gas industry's bounty of natural gas through fracking shale formations has led to the first facility fully powered by fuel cells. One advantage: Unlike grid electricity, you can lock in natural gas deliveries at a set price for the next 15 years, according to eBay's Dean Nelson, VP of global foundation services.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In the South Jordan facility, the backup power supply is not on-site diesel generators or a basement room full of lead-acid batteries. It's the Utah power grid itself, which otherwise goes unused.

At its new data center in Maiden, N.C., Apple also relies on a 5-megawatt fuel cell system for part of its electrical supply. Both Apple's and eBay's fuel cell systems were designed by Bloom Energy. Apple also uses a 100-acre solar farm at the site, plus regional wind, solar and bio-gas generation options.

Better power distribution
Power distribution inside data centers used to be at the commercial standard of 220 or 110 volts. By distributing power at 400 volts to local transformers, which step it down to 220 or 230 volts, data center operators save 2% of the power that is otherwise normally lost in transmission. Modern wholesale data centers such as those built by Vantage in Santa Clara, Calif., use such a distribution system, with Facebook and Apple on the record as doing so as well. All the large Web companies in all probability have used such an approach for several years.

Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft all have pledged to either produce their own energy for their data centers or use green energy sources to reduce their corporate carbon footprint. Facebook's new data center in Lulea, Sweden, relies on renewable hydropower in the northern part of the country. Effective power usage, as expressed by the power usage effectiveness (PUE) measure and reliance on renewable, low-impact sources, is part of the

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
1/7/2015 | 7:12:39 PM
How about those optical cross-connects?
No opinion, Lorna, until I get more familiar with optimcal cross-connect ToRs. What's your opinion?
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2015 | 3:42:29 PM
Charlie, What's your opinion of optical ToR alternatives like the tech from Fiber Mountain, which essentially provide optical cross-connects with baked-in central orchestration software?
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