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Data Center Managers Weary of Whittling Cooling Costs 198

Posted by timothy
from the that's-a-lot-of-air-to-move dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes that a survey from the Uptime Institute "suggests something it calls 'green fatigue' is setting in when it comes to making data centers greener. 'Green fatigue' is exactly as it sounds: managers are getting tired of the increasingly difficult race to chop their PUE, or Power Usage Effectiveness. The PUE is a measure of a data center's efficiency. The lower the PUE, the better — and Microsoft and Google, with nearly limitless resources, have set the bar so high (or low, depending on your perspective) that it's making less-capitalized firms frustrated. Just a few years ago, the Uptime Institute estimated that the average PUE of a data center was around 2.4, which meant for every dollar of electricity to power a data center, $1.4 dollars were spent to cool it. That dropped to 1.8 recently, an improvement to be sure. But then you have companies such as Google and Microsoft building data centers next to rivers for cheap hydroelectric power in remote parts of the Pacific Northwest and reporting insanely low PUEs (below 1.1 in some cases). The Institute latest survey of data center operators shows only 50 percent of respondents in North America said they considered energy efficiency to be very important to their companies, down from 52 percent last year and 58 percent in 2011."
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Data Center Managers Weary of Whittling Cooling Costs

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  • by alen (225700) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @08:44PM (#43765445)

    that always works

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @08:46PM (#43765459)

    These are just publicity stunts. Computing is cheap in terms of energy, the energy used by datacenters barely registers in the total energy usage.

    • by XaXXon (202882)

      You know this because you run large-scale datacenters running millions of machines?

      • You know this because you run large-scale datacenters running millions of machines?

        Is first-hand knowledge required to make a factual statement? You manage a large-scale datacenter, Mr. X?

    • by afidel (530433) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @09:17PM (#43765547)

      Datacenters accounted for 1.3% of all electricity used worldwide in 2010, I imagine it's higher today, so reducing their power usage by say 40% is a big deal, almost as big as the similar reduction in the 5-6% of total electricity used for residential lighting we got by switching to LED/CFL.

    • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @09:41PM (#43765627)

      Actually, electricity is one of the major costs of running a large data center - the amortized cost of a single server is probably only a few hundred bucks a year over its lifetime. The energy to operate it is typically a comparable amount, and the energy for cooling is even greater.

      Now I wouldn't expect anyone to upgrade their cooling efficiency on a regular basis, but it's foolish not to consider both operating and cooling efficiency during a major upgrade - you may end up paying a larger sticker price, but it can lower your amortized costs significantly.

      • by amiga3D (567632)

        Especially when you consider that energy costs will only go up. Any improvements today will reap even bigger benefits down the road.

        • by manu0601 (2221348)
          Is it doomed to raise? If you build a datacenter with its own solar, wind and hydroelectric power supplies [slashdot.org], why would the price raise?
          • by amiga3D (567632)

            Well that's a good way to avoid a price increase. If you're off the grid you are free. Not many can manage that unfortunately.

          • by ultranova (717540)

            If you build a datacenter with its own solar, wind and hydroelectric power supplies, why would the price raise?

            Because hydroelectric sites are taken, and your customers might take issues with their clouds disappearing when eclipsed by real ones.

            • by manu0601 (2221348)

              It is true no renewable energy source is a panacea, but if you combine multiple sources, it starts filling the deal

              Usually when you don't have sun, you have wind. Hydroelectricity can be a cheap energy storage system for time when you have neither sun, nor wind: while you have power, just pump river or sea water into a high pool, and release it when needed.

          • Because these powerplants cost money to operate and you could be selling excess capacity if you decrease consumption of your own datacenter

        • by amorsen (7485)

          I would expect rising energy costs to be a temporary blip. Once solar hits price parity, energy costs will only go down. Until we run out of desert and have to switch to energy satellites at least.

    • by thegarbz (1787294) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @10:20PM (#43765759)

      In 2009 the EPA estimated that if historical trends for datacentre expansion continue (that is PUE remains steady as datacentres continue to be built) then USA datacentre power usage would consume 120 billion kWh/year. To put that into perspective a typical house uses about 12000 kWh/year. So datacentre usage was projected to be the equivalent of 10 million US households. Best case scenario currently puts this closer to 5 million US households.

      That's just serving up data. Now add the insane amounts of network switching gear to allow data to get to the end users and then add the computing power of the end users themselves and you end up with a significant environmental footprint.

      All this based just on environmental savings too. Don't forget energy costs money so by improving cooling efficiency there's significant opportunity for high ROI in the long run. Being energy inefficient these days is an express ticket to Chapter 11, especially for companies like Facebook and Twitter who had trouble monetising their services to being with. Many of these companies have a really large book value but very poor cashflows.

    • Energy isn't cheap, but it is low enough to be absorbed in the price of the software without being losing you competitive edge.
      However there is a phrase you need to spend money to make money. Which leads you need to have money to spend money. Which then finally means you need to Have Money to make Money. The sad truth of is the big guys will always have the upper edge just because they are more self reliant on their infrastructure, they can have their own power plants they can cut through regulations, in

  • Don't use HVAC? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by myowntrueself (607117) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @08:49PM (#43765473)

    I like the way Facebook say they don't use HVAC... yet their entire BUILDING is a huge HVAC unit!

    Efficiency of scale works nicely with HVAC, if you can afford to get the building made to your specs.

    • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday May 18, 2013 @10:45PM (#43765839)

      I like the way Facebook say they don't use HVAC... yet their entire BUILDING is a huge HVAC unit!

      Amazon just hires local surfs to peddle bicycles that power belt-driven fans. When a surf drops, they simply hustle them out and replace them with another. Communities are so glad to have such a huge employer, they look the other way...

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Which highlights another interesting point: if your building has alternative energy sources like solar then the cost of some of your electricity is close to zero. PUE isn't a very good way to measure efficiency.

  • by Bram Stolk (24781) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @08:56PM (#43765487) Homepage

    Dumb summary.
    What does is matter how cheap the electricity is?
    It is a ratio of two electricity costs.
    Price of electricity has no effect on PUE.
    Maybe climate has.
    Cooling in arctic is cheaper than cooling in nevada desert.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      And cooling is also easier to get if you are located close to the sea or a major river. If you are lucky you can use the cool water "as is" to cool your data center and through that lower the cost for cooling a lot. Only the cost of the energy needed to pump the water is what will remain.

      Water cooling of the data centers in combination with water cooled servers could be the answer. Could even keep down the noise in the data center.

      And the cost of cooling will make sites where natural cooling is possible mor

    • Price of electricity matters. If your total electricity cost is $1000 per month you'd almost certainly find something else to concentrate on. If the same data centre costs $100,000 to run you'd be stupid not to look at it. Agreed the PUE doesn't change with cost, but the relevance does.
  • Go North, Young Man (Score:5, Interesting)

    by habig (12787) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @08:58PM (#43765499) Homepage

    Why don't they just site their centers up north? Here in Duluth, most of the year the outside air is cooled for free by mother nature. Heck, they could sell their waste heat to nearby homes and businesses and get a negative PUE.

    Don't need to be green to worry about this, it's $$, something ever company wants.

    • by Gorobei (127755)

      Why don't they just site their centers up north? Here in Duluth, most of the year the outside air is cooled for free by mother nature. Heck, they could sell their waste heat to nearby homes and businesses and get a negative PUE.

      Don't need to be green to worry about this, it's $$, something ever company wants.

      At my last co, we did just that at a Canadian compute farm - used cold river water as the main coolant, pumped the low-grade waste heat to a local town for residential heating.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      That is funny but their are good reasons. One do you have cheap Hydro power in Duluth? Fiber? The people arguing about latency are a bit silly. South Florida to Seattle is only 14ms distance so it would be about a third of that Duluth to LA or NY.
      The places that they are building data centers have cheap hydro power and even better cheap cold water. Frankly the ideal place for a Data Center is probably the Hoover Dam. The Colorado river is actually too cold because of the dam so dumping the heat back into it

      • "That is funny but their are good reasons. One do you have cheap Hydro power in Duluth? Fiber?"

        Cheap land? Check.
        Cold frigid body of water? Check
        Cheaper workers? Check
        Lower taxes? Check

        The cost of land compared to California? Priceless!

        I got into a debate 2 years ago when someone said you must be in the bay area if you are a young I.T. startup! I called that out as Bullshit! Unless you already have tens of millions of dollars sitting in your bank account. Texas is a much better deal. Those who hated Texas f

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          "Cheap land? Check.
          Cold frigid body of water? Check
          Cheaper workers? Check
          Lower taxes? Check"
          Ever hear of the TVA? What about eastern Washington state and Oregon?
          Tenesse and North Carolina have all of those things plus cheap power.
          Washington and Oregon have all but maybe the lower taxes but I bet they are lower than California plus the cheap power. We are talking about data centers so they do not employ a huge number of people.
          I think you are right about start ups but here is the rub. The VC firms and tech p

    • I prefer Superior, because well it's Superior.

    • Why don't they just site their centers up north?

      That works - if there are fat enough pipes available to handle the data. If there isn't, and you have to roll your own, then it's probably not cost efficient to do so.

  • by taj (32429) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @09:00PM (#43765505) Homepage

    For instance, I suspect we waste more energy moving tap water in plastic bottles between cities.

    • Well, we have to move that water around. What are people in New York City going to do when they can't get water containing Maine bear piss? New York bears just taste different ...

    • For instance, I suspect we waste more energy moving tap water in plastic bottles between cities.

      "Well, people get shot all the time, so what's the big deal if I shoot someone?"

      Doesn't work that way, does it? It sounds a bit like you're arguing a nirvana fallacy, namely that because this trend of saving energy in datacenters doesn't save energy everywhere, it's useless.

    • by thegarbz (1787294) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @10:26PM (#43765783)

      The difference between historical design and best practice is somewhere in the vicinity of being able to power 6 million US households [energy.gov].

      Not to mention the strawman you have made there. This isn't an either-or choice. Why can't we improve energy efficiency AND make an effort to rely less on bottled water?

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @09:54PM (#43765667)

    Typical modern groupthink - if you dont match up to some artificial social standard you lose. Watch your own checkbook, don't chase some mythical metric that others self-report. You'll never win, they'll just keep moving the goalposts. Spend less money as you expand capacity, and you're doing a good job.

  • Some managers failed their basic economics classes and don't understand "economy of scale". You can do things in a large company that are not affordable for a small one. But anyone who thinks that giving up completely and throwing in the towel is an appropriate response doesn't deserve to be in a leadership position.
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @10:15PM (#43765737)

    But then you have companies such as Google and Microsoft building data centers next to rivers for cheap hydroelectric power in remote parts of the Pacific Northwest and reporting insanely low PUEs (below 1.1 in some cases).

    Power Usage Efficiency [wikipedia.org] has nothing to do with the source of the power you're using.

    It's not even a measure of efficiency of equipment.

  • So they've been doing the stuff with the greatest return on investment.
    What's left is the marginal improvements that probably cost more than they're worth.

    Moving the whole datacenter to the Pacific Northwest just isn't in the cards for most companies.

  • by jamesh (87723) on Saturday May 18, 2013 @10:21PM (#43765765)

    I read that google did some experiments a while back and found that running the datacenter hotter saved more $$$ in cooling than the cost of the increased failure rate of hardware. That's fine for some computing workloads, but what are the obstacles to making computers that can run with an acceptable failure rate in an ambient temperature of (say) 50C (~120F)? I assume there are some major obstacles, i'm just curious as to what they are.

    Even if you could run the solid state hardware at 50C and the disks in a separate storage room at 22C, that would still be a win right?

    • by swillden (191260)

      As I recall, the paper from Google said something slightly different. It said they found no increase in failure rate. As a result, Google data centers do run warm: 80F. The employees in data centers wear shorts and t-shirts all the time.

      http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/efficiency/internal/#temperature

  • Why are managers worrying about meeting some arbitrary criteria set by Google/Microsoft/etc. for a metric that in the end doesn't matter? PUE is irrelevant, what matters to the business is the total cost of providing the computing power the business needs. If you have a cheap way of reducing that cost, take it. But if your cost's within acceptable limits and reducing it further's going to cost too much or take too much resources or investment, then stop wasting your time worrying about it and concentrate on

  • Ok, I'm pretty sure this is a typo, as I can't figure out what any of this has to do with the definition, "To cut or shape wood with a knife" (wiktionary), but I'm at a bit of a loss to say what was actually intended... dwindling maybe? Still it doesn't seem an easy mistake to make. Although maybe if I'd RTFA I'd have found out this has to do with cooling down while shaving wood off a stick... Oh also wary instead of weary unless you're falling asleep while whittling.
    • by yzf750 (178710)

      carve (wood) into an object by repeatedly cutting small slices from it.

      Read further into the dictionary... Substitute (wood) with costs

      Or did I just miss a really bad joke?

    • by Molochi (555357)

      "Whittling" refers to cutting a stick down to a sharp point and then repeating the action until you no longer have a stick to whittle. Sounds like business as usual.

  • Of all the first world problems, green fatigue?

    Bunch of pansies in IT need to get used to the idea of rationing.
  • You can blame Facebook for much of this green datacenter hype--some of which is arguably greenwashing.

    Facebook was under the gun for opening its own data centers that were, and still somewhat are, powered by electricity generated by coal.

    To answer this unwanted attention they bent over backwards to reduce power consumption at all costs, so much that they even designed their own "Open Data Center" servers to reduce power consumption at the cost of discarding nearly everything we already know works fine in co

  • by Trax3001BBS (2368736) on Sunday May 19, 2013 @01:14AM (#43766293) Homepage Journal

    There's talk of removing a few Dams and with them the cheap power.

    The Washington state Indians have a treaty to fish salmon they way they used to (with nets)
    that they then sale to make a living. The salmon are in decline which is blamed in part to the Dams. All of
    the Dams have fish ladders that help the Salmon migrate but they are asking for the lower (last) four Snake river Dams to be removed.
    http://www.americanrivers.org/initiatives/dams/projects/snake-dam-removal-economics.html [americanrivers.org]

    It's much more than just the Indians, but they seem to be the loudest.

    From the link:
    "Before the dams are removed, there must be a plan in place to: ...Replace the dams' energy in an affordable and carbon neutral manner..."

    I don't see how that can be accomplished unless wind power can be considered carbon neutral.

    • by MtViewGuy (197597)

      This idea not go anywhere because people realize the cost of dismantling the dams and replacing the power generated and agricultural water supplies would be EXTREMELY exorbitant. That's why all the talk of dismantling O'Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite National Park has not resulted in any action, because the economic cost of dismantling the dam, raising Don Pedro Reservoir to replace it, and restoring the habit of Tuolumne Canyon behind the dam would cost US$25 BILLION.

  • They should compare BTU's of cooling to see efficiency.

    Dollars just compares costs.

    Cost of power can due to many factors.

  • Maybe it's just a european thing, but if you have something called effectiveness, and it first has a bigger number assigned to it, and then a lower number, my interpretation of the situation would be that effectiveness has been going down, getting worse, etc.
  • The concept is simple. We've got car AC units that are 400% efficient, meaning for every one watt of power consumed, 4 watts of heat gets removed from the system it is cooling, within a certain size (the size of the interior of a Ford Explorer, for example.)

    Then you make these into micro centers - insulated rooms, fully-sealed, holding no more than maybe 3 or 4 racks of servers. Have one or two of these cooling that room.
    Hey, suddenly, you're spending $1 in electricity to cool off $4 of used power (and if y

    • by amorsen (7485)

      If your AC is 400% efficient, your PUE is 1.25, which is nice but not ground-breaking. And that is just for the AC, on top of that you waste power on transmission losses and UPS (if you run double-conversion, that is another 10% loss) and everything else a datacenter needs.

      Also, 400% is mostly a marketing number. The efficiency depends on the temperature difference. If the outside air is cooler than the temperature you need, you can get infinitely high efficiency -- in theory you can even get electricity ba

  • In other news:

    Computer programmers weary of optimizing code

    Auto engineers weary of increasing fuel economy

    Home owners weary of insulating their houses

    Electricity costs money. Reducing the cooling costs of data centers isn't a green issue; it's a cost issue. TFA mentions this specifically:

    Steven Brill and his analysts have pounded the table on the importance for IT to pay the electric bill so they understand just how much power they consume.

    so I find it odd that the take-away is "green fatigue."

  • "for every dollar of electricity to power a data center, $1.4 dollars were spent to cool it. That dropped to 1.8 recently, an improvement to be sure."

    Sure, 1.4 dropped to 1.8. Progress.

    If the rest of the article makes that much sense, I'm not wasting any more time. Typos are typos, but typoing the premise leaves me, well, feh.

  • And if it still doesn't come to the top of some company's balance sheet, it' perfectly fine. Chances are it will for heaviest electricity users and in the meantime taxes can be used for pro-encironment R&D.

  • As a one-time member of The Green Grid Technical Committee, let me summarize and correct a few points:

    • The EPA has said that data centers use around 4% of US power. The federal government uses going on half of that, IIRC.
    • Historically PUEs of 2.4 were common. It makes sense. In a closed building, it takes 1 unit of cooling energy to cool the heat produced by one unit of computation etc. The cooling systems were say 80% efficient so that makes 1.25 units of cooling energy. Add in power conditioning and UPS l

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