HP Reveals Blueprint for First Net-Zero-Energy Data Center

HP Labs comes up with a physical and virtual architecture that significantly reduces data-center power costs and energy requirements.

Hewlett-Packard has been in need of good news from its research and development people, and May 30 it was happy to report some.

HP Labs, the company's central research arm, has devised a new data center architecture that it claims requires no net energy from conventional power grids. If this holds true, it would signify a major step forward in establishing truly green, locally resource-renewable data centers--and that they aren't far away from becoming reality.


HP Labs researchers describe the Net-Zero Energy Data Center architecture, which matches energy supply with demand as required by IT workloads, in the research paper "Towards the Design and Operation of Net-Zero Energy Data Centers." The paper will be presented May 31 at IEEE's 13th annual Intersociety Conference on Thermal and Thermomechanical Phenomena in Electrical Systems, in San Diego.

HP also will showcase the new architecture at HP Discover, the company's largest client/partner event, June 4 to 7 in Las Vegas.

The sustainable data center at HP Labs headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., has served as the initial test bed for designing and building this blueprint, HP said.

Notorious Energy Eaters

Data centers have always been notorious energy eaters. Power drawn from the walls is currently the biggest single impediment for data center facility expansion, since most urban areas have strict limits on the amount of energy made available to enterprises. Numerous privately held and co-location data centers are tapped out at the limits of local and regional power allocation.

As a result, enterprises are now building data centers in remote, sparsely populated areas where hydroelectric power is plentiful, such as the Pacific Northwest, Canada and the Midwest.

The most recent set of statistics eWEEK has seen indicates that electricity used in global data centers in 2010 accounted for between 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent of total electricity use, respectively. For the U.S., that number was higher, at between 1.7 and 2.2 percent. These metrics come from research by Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Professor Jonathan Koomey.

HP Labs' research illustrates how its new architecture, combined with holistic energy-management techniques, enables enterprises to cut total power usage by as much as 30 percent, as well as dependence on grid power and costs by more than 80 percent.

The new architecture design coordinates several aspects of data center operations. It integrates energy and cooling supply from local renewable sources, with a novel demand-management approach that allows the scheduling of IT workloads based on resource availability and performance requirements.

Cost of Energy Is Prohibitive

"Information technology has the power to be an equalizer across societies globally, but the cost of IT services, and by extension the cost of energy, is prohibitive and inhibits widespread adoption," said Cullen Bash, interim director of the Sustainable Ecosystems Research Group at HP Labs.

"The Net-Zero Energy Data Center not only aims to minimize the environmental impact of computing, but also has a goal of reducing energy costs associated with data-center operations to extend the reach of IT accessibility globally."

One example of how this will work: Noncritical, delay-tolerant workloads are scheduled during daylight hours to coincide with solar supply for data centers equipped with photovoltaic energy generation, HP said. In this way, demand can be "shaped" according to resource availability to reduce reliance on nonrenewable resources.

Key Components of the Design

HP's Net-Zero Energy Data Center uses a management architecture that integrates energy and cooling resources with IT workload planning through four modules:

  • Prediction Module: Leverages predictive analytics software to forecast the availability and cost of critical resources, such as renewable energy and IT workload demand.
  • Planning Module: Delivers an optimization algorithm that balances workload scheduling with high-level operational goals, such as achieving net-zero energy operation, enabling organizations to schedule workloads based on resource availability, while meeting data-center operational goals.
  • Execution Module: Enables organizations to manage workload and energy consumption in real time according to performance requirements and data center operational objectives.
  • Verification and Reporting Module: Identifies and remediates misalignment between the plan and execution, ensuring plan accuracy.

To view a brief YouTube video on the Net-Zero Energy Data Center project, go here.

Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK Editor for Features and Analysis. Twitter: @editingwhiz

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...