Researchers Desperately Trying To Reduce Data Center Energy Consumption

Server room in data center. Telecommunication equipment

About 54% of energy consumption in commercial buildings is used to power HVAC and water heating systems. In particularly hot and cold regions, that number can be even higher.

However, in recent years an entirely new industry has emerged as one of the greatest energy consumers in the country, and once again excessive HVAC usage is to blame. We’re talking about data centers, which require constant cooling to avoid servers and computer systems from overheating and bursting into flame.

The data centers that power companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon consume vast amounts of energy. And according to the U.S. Department of Energy, these data centers (giant warehouses packed with computer servers), accounted for roughly 2% of the total U.S. energy use in 2014. That’s equal to 6.4 million U.S. homes. And as internet and data use rises, demand for these centers will grow further and further, making that energy consumption increase further.

Just keeping the facility cold requires roughly 40% of the energy that data centers consume. As a result, many researchers are looking into new strategies to reduce the cooling costs at these massive server farms.

Some of the tactics that are being considered include water cooling, which Google is looking to pursue by pumping seawater into data centers to regulate the temperature of computers and servers. Microsoft is taking it a step further and looking into building its data centers underwater. Less extreme strategies that researchers are looking into include making the data centers more energy efficient.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Arvind Mithal is working with his colleagues to find changes to data centers that will reduce power consumption as a whole. They’re doing this by looking at the “caches” that data centers use to store results.

“My guess is that these caches take about 10% of the energy resources of data centers,” Arvind said.

The researchers that are looking into reducing energy costs are considering many options, though it is unlikely that they will find a single one that answers all their needs.

“I don’t see any as a silver bullet, but when you accumulate them all over five or 10 years, their results look amazing,” Arvind said.

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