You’ve heard about the cloud, that virtual space where online music and books, photos and movies, and pretty much everything that can be broken down to bits and bytes lives. It grows and swells not above your head, but in massive data centers sprinkled across the country.
These storage farms guzzle many megawatts of electricity. McKinsey & Company estimates that American data centers draw down two percent of the grid’s capacity and run up $2 billion in monthly utility bills.
Home Cooking: GE Digital Energy’s uninterruptable power supply (UPS) units with eBoost™ technology (white boxes in the center) enable GE Appliances & Lighting’s data center to achieve up to 99 percent UPS efficiency, without sacrificing reliability.
A lot of that power is wasted as heat, and there’s more. The McKinsey study says that by 2020, carbon dioxide emissions from data centers will top the airline industry. So much for being green by putting print online!
Not so fast. We can do something about this waste. GE programmers and engineers built a whole set of solutions to manage their power. The latest is a smart new ecomagination-qualified software called eBoost that helps data centers use efficiently as much as 99 percent of electricity as it comes in from the grid. (The software does not handle energy losses further down the line, such as heat from the actual computing hardware.) That’s just a five percent improvement compared to the existing standard, but here’s why it matters. The average U.S. data center needs 5 megawatts of electricity to feed its racks of servers. The new software can cut annual consumption by 3.6 million kilowatt hours or $360,000 per year.
How? The engineering is complicated but the principle is simple. Most data centers are finicky consumers and have sophisticated circuits that precisely tune the electricity they suck down from the grid. But Neil Gazeley, communications manager at GE Digital Energy, says that this tuning is often not necessary because U.S. power quality is already good enough. “It’s like running clean water through a filter,” Gazeley says. “It costs money and you don’t always need to do it. Our software, to continue the analogy, sends the water through the filter only when it is running dirty,” and power parameters swing out of bounds. Gazeley says that this can happen during a lightning strike. “No more often than a couple of times per year,” he says.
Here’s another set of data. The research firm Frost & Sullivan found that if all data clouds could bypass their “filters” when they are not needed, they could save 4,000 megawatts of electricity worth more than $3 billion per year. Then eBoost can really make it rain!