4. DC power
The warm, humming bricks that convert AC from the wall to the DC used by electronics are finally drawing some much deserved attention -- from datacenter engineers hoping to save money by wasting less energy. The waste must often be paid for twice: first to power equipment, then to run the air conditioner to remove the heat produced. One solution is to create a central power supply that distributes pure DC current to rack-mounted computers. But will cutting out converters catch on, or is the buzz surrounding DC to the datacenter destined to fizzle?
Researchers at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have built a prototype rack filled with computers that run directly off 380-volt DC. Bill Tschudi, principal investigator at the lab, says that the system uses 15 percent less power than do servers equipped with today's most efficient power supplies -- and that there can be even greater savings when replacing the older models still in use in most enterprises. If the server room requires cooling, as it does everywhere except in northern regions in the winter, the savings can double, because the air-conditioning bill also can be cut by 15 percent.
Others are working on bringing additional DC savings to the enterprise. Nextek Power, for instance, is building a system that integrates the traditional power grid, rooftop solar panels, and computer hardware using DC power. Choosing this standard avoids the inefficiencies of converting the DC produced by the panels to AC, then back to DC when it reaches the computers.
"It's a big opportunity, because we've shown that there's big energy savings," Tschudi says of the prospects of DC. "And it's also got more reliability because there are fewer points of failure."
Cost savings? Reliability? The prospects for DC to the datacenter are looking up.
-- Peter Wayner
5. Holographic and phase-change storage
What enterprise wouldn't benefit from a terabyte USB dongle on every key chain and every episode of Magnum, P.I. on a single disc? Thanks to phase-change memory and holographic storage, today's pipe dream is shaping up to be tomorrow's reality.
Currently under development by IBM, Macronix, and Qimonda, phase-change storage is being touted as 500 times faster and a magnitude smaller than traditional "floating gate" flash technology. Whereas flash memory involves the trapping of electrons, phase-change memory achieves its speed by heating a chalcogenide alloy, altering its phase from crystalline to amorphous.
This technology could prove critical in embedded computing apps, as memory cell degradation has forced many appliance developers to add expensive NVRAM (nonvolatile RAM) to store configuration information, rather than risk premature flash failure. Once realized, it could dramatically drive down the cost of appliances and push new capabilities into enterprise handsets.
Holographic storage, on the other hand, could quickly change the way we think about CDs and DVDs. So quickly, in fact, that enterprise archiving may bypass slow-to-ship dual-layer optical drives altogether and head straight to holographic optical.