Green Innovations

Developing renewable and clean technology companies in New York

Monday, November 30, 2009

Syracuse University, IBM and NYSERDA cut the ribbon this week on one of the most energy-efficient computer operations in the world

Syracuse University, IBM and NYSERDA will cut the ribbon this week on the new $12.4 million Syracuse University Green Data Center -- one of the most energy efficient computer operations in the world.  Vijay Lund and Nick Donofrio (retired) from IBM will join SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor and NYSERDA President Frank Murray for the event. 

Artist's rendering.  See original story below by Tim Knauss, Syracuse Post Standard, April 2009 on the announcement.  Watch this news blog or check for follow-up story later this week. 

Syracuse University has teamed up with IBM Corp. to design a showpiece $12.4 million data center that aims to be one of the most energy-efficient computer operations in the world. The "green" data center under construction on SU's South Campus will replace an aging computer bank on the main campus, processing all of SU's administrative data, from student records to professors' paychecks.  Thanks to a design worked out by the university and IBM, the 6,000-square-foot facility is expected to use half as much energy as a typical data center.

"We think it's going to be one of the most energy-efficient data centers around," said Mark Weldon, executive director of corporate relations at SU.  That's a big deal, because experts have grown increasingly worried about how much energy the nation's data centers use.  In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that data centers consumed 1.5 percent of the nation's electricity -- more than all the color TVs in the country. And without significant changes, energy use at data centers was expected to double by 2011, according to EPA's report.

Energy often is the largest single cost for U.S. data centers, and improving efficiency could save them at least $2 billion a year, said Vijay Lund, vice president for development and manufacturing operations in IBM's systems and technology group.  Lund, who holds a 1981 master's degree in computer engineering from SU, said his company and the university will work together for several years after the data center is built to study its performance and to refine their models of efficient design.  IBM, which plans to use the SU facility as a showpiece for its other clients, is contributing $5 million worth of equipment and services to the project.  "I think customers will like this," he said.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has awarded the project a $2 million grant to promote energy efficiency.

Here's how the facility will save energy:
  • It will make its own power. The data center will house 12 microturbines, 8-foot-tall power generators that run on natural gas and make 65 kilowatts each. Since most computer servers use direct current, the data center will avoid power losses that occur when alternating current from a power company is converted to direct current. 
The data center will be able to draw power from the utility grid as a backup, but can mostly operate without it, said Christopher Sedore, vice president for information technology and chief information officer.
  • The center will make its own heat and air conditioning. Waste heat from the microturbines will be sent to two absorption chillers, which will use the heat energy to make cold water to cool the computers. During winter, waste heat from the microturbines can be used to make hot water for an adjacent building, while the data center will pull in cold outdoor air for cooling.
By obtaining electricity, heat and cooling from the microturbines, the data center is expected to demonstrate high levels of efficiency, which is why NYSERDA funded the project, said Ray Hull, speaking for the state authority.
  • Computers will be cooled with water rather than air. Most data centers condition the room air to keep computers cool, but the SU center will use IBM equipment that circulates cold water through pipes near each unit. That will allow them to provide cooling tailored to how hard each server is working, and will cut down on the noise and wasted energy of air-circulating fans, Weldon said.
Computers will be used more efficiently. Through a technique known as "virtualization," sophisticated software will aggregate computer applications onto fewer servers so others can be shut off while not in use, Weldon said.