The cloud has enjoyed a good life as a clean, green Internet abstraction. But the truth has never been so fluffy. Down on the ground, the cloud is a vast collection of data centers, many of which are surprisingly inefficient. GE engineers have been developing technology and software that can squeeze millions of dollars in savings from the cloud and make it cleaner, cooler and less power hungry. Their efforts are beginning to pay off.
How big is the problem? Last month The New York Times reported that “worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.” Consultants at McKinsey & Company who have studied the efficiency of data centers told the paper that “on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations.” They used the rest just to keep the servers at the ready. McKinsey estimates that U.S. data centers draw down 2 percent of the grid’s capacity and run up $2 billion in monthly utility bills.
Keeping Cool: GE engineers have been developing technology and software that can squeeze millions of dollars in savings from the cloud and make it cleaner, cooler and less power hungry.
That’s where GE comes in. Earlier this year, it rolled out new software that improves the efficiency of the power equipment that kicks in when the electricity supply to a data center fails, say, due to a lightning strike. The average U.S. data center needs 5 megawatts of electricity to feed its racks of servers. The new software, called eBoost, can cut the center’s annual consumption by 3.6 million kilowatt hours, or more than $3 million over a decade. Harry Handlin, director of critical power applications at GE Energy Management, says that eBoost software can improve the operating efficiency of a GE uninterruptible power supply system from around 94 to 99 percent. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) has just endorsed such technology, which is part of GE’s ecomagination portfolio, as an innovative way to save energy and gave it the ENERGY STAR certification. The GE uninterruptible power supply system with eBoost currently serve at more than 40 centers in the U.S. and Europe.
Another “ecomaginative” technology from GE helping data centers with critical backup power is the Durathon battery. Unlike lead-acid batteries, the innovative battery employs a disruptive energy storage technology based on a simple chemical exchange between electrically charged sodium and nickel compounds called halides. Durathon can easily handle the heat generated by the server banks and run essentially maintenance-free for two decades. The battery, made by GE’s newest unit – GE Energy Storage – takes half the space of an ordinary battery, lasts for nine hours, and can recharge 3,500 times (ten times more than regular batteries). It is non-toxic and completely recyclable.
Last year GE also acquired Lineage Power, whose electricity conversion technology can cut the power loss at data centers by 50 percent and lower cooling requirements by as much as 70 percent. GE, which is a member of the The Green Grid – an industry group working to improve information technology and data farm efficiency – also has a stake in another cooling technology company, the California-based SynapSense.
The cloud may have a silver lining, after all.