SUNNYVALE – Data centers are getting more efficient, but a coordinated effort between tech companies, state and federal governments and academic researchers will be required to keep the momentum going.
That was the collective opinion of the keynote panel at the 2012 Data Center Efficiency Summit sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. The event was held today (Oct. 24) at Advanced Micro Devices in Sunnyvale.
Andrew Feldman, a corporate vice president and general manager of AMD Data Center Server Solutions, started the session by asking the audience if those in charge of making data centers more efficient are focusing on the right things.
“We’ve made tremendous progress in the last five years in the actual facilities,” Feldman said. The first huge data centers – the size of football fields and full of tens of thousands of servers – are a fairly recent development. Yet, they now are much more efficient than they were just a few years ago when it comes to energy use, air flow and cooling, he said.
With the servers themselves, he said, the progress has been slower. And that needs to be the focus of industry research and development, he said.
Another panelist, Horst Simon, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, talked about a cluster of computers at the affiliated National Energy Research Scientific Computer Center that ran at a utilization rate of more than 96 percent recently. Utilization in the data-center world is the measure of how well computing power is being put to good use.
Across the industry, according to a recent New York Times article, the utilization rate at a typical data center is 7 to 12 percent. That means much of the available computing power is unused most of the time.
A recent series of stories in the Times on data center energy use and pollution sparked a provocative exchange among the panelists. (The story also was the subject of a recent NEXT100 post on Currents.)
“We really need aggressive energy efficiency at the device level and at the systems level,” he said.
The panelists answered audience questions about future innovations as well as how and how fast those innovations can move to the mainstream market.
The panel was moderated by Matt Nauman, editor of PG&E’s Currents website.
The day-long event was hosted by AMD, the Energy Commission and the Berkeley Lab. PG&E and HP were the title sponsors.
PG&E’s Bill Dunckel, a senior project manager who works with customer data centers, moderated another panel at the Summit.
“PG&E works with customers to make their data centers more energy efficient,” he said. “That includes researching new technologies and promoting best practices for both design and operation of data centers.”
PG&E administers financial incentives for data centers making energy-efficiency upgrades as well as working with customers in advance to estimate the size of those savings.
According to the Times article, more than 1.8 trillion gigabytes of digital information were created globally in 2011. The story quoted research by Stanford’s Jonathan Koomey showing that data centers in the United States used 76 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2010, or 2 percent of all electricity used in the nation that year.