AMD, HP, Others Aim to Use Wind, Solar Power for Data Centers

AMD and HP are joining with a New York agency and university to determine whether wind and solar power can be used to power data centers.

Advanced Micro Devices and Hewlett-Packard are teaming with the state of New York and Clarkson University on a research project to figure how best to use renewable energy to power containerized data centers.

Specifically, the researchers want to determine not only whether the data centers-such as HP's PODS (Performance-Optimized Data Centers) can be run solely on wind or solar power, but also whether workloads can be automatically shifted between these energy resources without having to rely on a traditional electrical grid.

"The ultimate goal is to see if we can get 100 percent uptime using 100 percent renewable energy resources," Steve Kester, AMD's director of government relations and regulatory affairs, said in an interview with eWEEK.

The $674,000 project, with funding from NYSERDA (N.Y. State Energy Research and Development Authority) and private sources, was announced Aug. 1. It was developed jointly by Clarkson and engineers with AMD's Research Labs. The project is entering its first stage, a 12-to-18-month phase where Clarkson students will experiment with managing data through a distributed network that is powered by renewable energy.

The next phase of the project will bring hardware elements into the mix. That will include HP's POD with systems running AMD's Opteron server processors, which the chip maker said are designed for greater energy efficiency and cloud computing.

If the project works out, the end result will be highly flexible data centers that not only can powered by renewable energy, but can shift workloads between these energy sources as needed, according to Kester and Bryan Berry, project lead for NYSERDA. For example, if winds suddenly die down in one site in New York, then workloads can be automatically and reliably moved to another site in the state where winds are blowing, without incurring any service downtime and without having to rely on the traditional electrical grid.

"If the wind is blowing in Buffalo, but isn't blowing in Albany, and we have [wind-powered data center] locations in Buffalo, we can shift the computational workload [from Albany] to Buffalo," Berry said in an interview with eWEEK, adding that relying on wind and solar to this degree hasn't been done before. "You have to be able to be a bit proactive, and you have to be able to respond to changes in the field."

The challenge, AMD's Kester said, is finding a way to reconcile the demand in data centers for constant uptime with the intermittent nature of solar and wind power. Sometimes the sky is cloud, and sometimes the wind doesn't blow. If the project can determine methods for doing just that, it could go a long way in easing the increasing problem of power and cooling costs.

"We're rapidly reaching the point where the cost of running the data center actually exceeds the cost of the technology in it," he said.

Technology vendors-from systems makers to networking companies to chip makers like AMD and Intel-all are looking to drive up the energy efficiency of their products. At the same time, there is a growing push to make data center facilities more energy efficient as well, including through the use of alternative methods of powering and cooling.

For example, Dell officials on July 28 announced that they would warranty some of their server, storage and networking products at temperatures as high as 113 degrees, a move that would enable data center managers to use fresh air rather than chiller units for longer periods of time to cool their infrastructures.

AMD officials said being able to rely more on wind and solar power is important.

"We know that renewable energy - solar and wind power - plays a major role in our future," Alan Lee, corporate vice president of research and advanced development at AMD, said in a July 31 blog post. "How do we link this vital resource to the data center and I mean directly link power source to servers? (You know AMD is all about eliminating the bottlenecks!) That is one key issue-getting power from a wind turbine directly to a data center like an HP POD without building a traditional electrical grid between the two."

For a state like New York, which trails only California in its concentration of data centers, a greater shift to renewable power sources could be significant. According to NYSERDA's Berry, 3 percent of the energy consumption in the state comes from IT, and power consumption by IT in the state will double every three years at the current rate.

"We want to help [companies] run these facilities in efficient ways," he said.