HP Hopes Cool Fan Will Fly

The redesigned fans will first appear in blade servers.

A trip to a remote-controlled model airplane show more than three years ago will result in a new fan design in Hewlett-Packard blade servers later this summer.

HPs Active Cool Fans design, which will first appear in the next generation of the companys BladeSystem servers, is one of several initiatives to combat rising data center power and cooling costs.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company introduced the new fan design May 3, a day after several industry players joined Advanced Micro Devices Green Grid Alliance. The alliance was created in April to promote more efficient data centers.

Several issues—from increasing server density and more powerful processors to rising electrical prices—are fueling a rise in power costs for businesses, which are beginning to take notice. In a survey of 482 users by analyst firm IDC, 28 percent said power consumption is the issue being least addressed by vendors. Security was chosen as the least-addressed issue by 42 percent of the respondents.

"A number of customers that weve spoken to who have built data centers in the last five to 10 years now are facing the possibility of having to build new data centers because they just cant keep up with the issue," said IDC analyst Matthew Eastwood, in Framingham, Mass.

Paul Perez, vice president of storage, networking and infrastructure for HPs Industry Standard Servers unit, said the company has been working on this issue for 10 years and that it now has what it calls a "Cool Team" of about 150 power and thermal engineers whose work touches on everything from printers to high-end servers and who meet regularly to discuss the issue.

The Active Cool Fans design was first broached when Ron Noblett, vice president for shared engineering services for ISS and a remote-controlled airplane enthusiast, saw that people at a model airplane show had used EDF (electrical ducted fan) systems in model jets. Noblett asked Wade Vinson, an HP thermal engineer, to see how that system could be applied to HPs power and cooling work. The result was a design that has garnered 20 patents, Perez said—10 for the fan design and another 10 for the fans usage models.

Currently, air from outside the server rack is sucked in through fans, blown across the inside of the systems to cool the components and then blown out the other side of the rack. In an EDF design, air is brought in, then directed through sealed ducts to the components that need it most.

Perez said the result is a system that is higher-performing but more efficient, both in its cooling capacity and the amount of power thats needed. The new design offers four times the performance of current fan systems and will use a third of the power to run those fans, he said.

In the coming months, HP also will unveil features added to its servers that will dynamically power up or down individual fans based on the heat around them and will introduce "dynamic capping" to its blade servers, Perez said. With the current "static capping," power consumption of servers within a rack is capped at the same rate to stay within a limit set by users. With dynamic capping, individual blades can be powered up and down depending on the workloads in each, all within the rack power limit set by the user.

Data Centers Heating Up

* Servers that consumed an average of 100 watts of power 10 years ago now consume an average of 400 watts.

* Each rack of computer gear 10 years ago held an average of seven servers; it now holds an average of 20 to 22.

* Ten years ago, there were about 6 million servers worldwide. Now there are 24 million, and IDC projects that number will grow to 35 million in 2010.