HP: Net-Zero Energy Data Center cuts power usage by 30 percent

Smart management architecture schedules IT workloads to fully use renewable energy while reducing reliance on power grid

HP today unveiled the blueprints for its HP Net-Zero Energy Data Center, an architecture designed to automatically match energy supply with a facility's IT workload energy demands. The architecture can cut total power usage by 30 percent and operating costs by more than 80 percent, according to HP.

The approach envisions data centers using on-site renewable energy to offset the use of energy drawn from the power grid, which isn't too far-fetched, given that data center giants such as Google, Facebook, Intel, and others have invested in on-site renewable energy. Developing regions such as Africa, too, are turning to renewable energy, to bring affordable computing and Internet access to their citizens.

"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, distinguished technologist at HP and interim director of the Sustainable Ecosystems Research Group at HP Labs. "The HP 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."

HP's architecture represents a unique approach in the long line of techniques that have emerged in recent years to reducing energy waste in the data center. Those techniques have ranged from consolidating servers and storage using virtualization to designing energy-efficient hardware to employing free cooling to dabbling in powering down servers.

The management architecture draws on four modules to plan IT workloads. The Prediction Module uses homegrown predictive analytics software to forecast how much energy the coming day's IT workloads will demand and how much renewable energy will be available. Those calculations are based on several different factors, such as historical power traces, weather information, and configuration information.

From there, the Planning Module draws on output from the Prediction module, combining it with considerations such as IT and cooling capacity, operational goals (achieving net-zero energy operation), and performance goals defined through SLAs. Using optimization algorithms, the module generates a workload schedule to meet those goals.

The third module, Execution, carries out the schedule. A Dynamic IT Provision component manages workloads in real time, all the while taking into consideration the performance requirements, operational objectives, and operational efficiency, including hardware and cooling efficiency.

Finally, the Verification and Reporting module is responsible for reporting results to determine if workloads executed as expected. The results feed back into the Planning module.

HP dabbled with different workload styles in testing the architecture in its data center, which draws on photovoltaic array. HP found that the optimal plan was to reshape noncritical workloads to take full advantage of available renewable energy supply, with more workloads added throughout the day as more solar energy becomes available. Some renewable energy ended up reserved to offset nonrenewable energy used at night for critical workloads.

Another plan, dubbed Night, represented the more traditional approach of executing noncritical workloads at night to eliminate interference with critical workloads and to take advantage of idle machines.

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