What Do Data Center Operators Do When They Face a Power Shortage?

Yes, in the US we experience a power availability and supply problem when we try to build a data center or expand capacity. Some operators try their best to maximize available power for expanding their existing data centers, while others look for a building site with an ample power supply. Recently, the New York Times ran an article critical of data centers’ heavy power consumption. Does the data center industry do nothing but waste precious power? The answer is NO! Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s (SVLG) Data Center Energy Efficiency (DCEE) Summit is the venue where energy efficiency is extensively covered and discussed.

Anne Smart, director of energy at SVLG, is quoted in the following excerpt from a Politico article:

“[T]here is no denying that we’re increasing our need for data centers.” What the Times story got right is the rapid expansion of the data center industry, Smart said. But the article shied away from technologies people are working on to help with data center efficiencies. “As the community looks at new technology, data center operators are incredibly open to figuring out best practices and working collaboratively to address the energy demand of data centers,” she said.

On October 24, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, in partnership with the California Energy Commission and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, will host its 5th Annual Data Center Efficiency Summit. PG&E is a key supporter of the event, which will be held at Advanced Micro Devices’ California headquarters. One highlight—The Japan Data Center Council will discuss what they learned about operating within energy limits after last year’s tsunami and earthquake.

After the disastrous earthquake in Japan and the tsunami that followed it destroyed four nuclear reactors, the rest of the reactors were stopped for fear of similar accidents. This caused a power shortage on a national scale. Before that, Japan had been proud of its solid power grid infrastructure and ample power supply. Even in such an environment, data center operators there tried their best to maximize power use. But now, in the face of a national power shortage, Japanese data centers sometimes face criticism similar to that in the Times article.

Some ironic trend is causing Japanese data centers’ power demand to increase. There were pockets of server rooms and closets scattered around the enterprise before the disaster. But because of the unstable power supply, those servers hidden in small pockets of buildings are being moved to data centers for a stable operating environment. Although no immediate rolling blackouts—exercised right after the disaster—are eminent, many data center operators are worried about the possibility, as the power supply to some data centers was shut down for two hours at a time before. Many data centers are equipped with a backup power supply, from diesel generators, that lasts only 48 hours at best. Technically, this allows them to survive 24 two-hour blackouts. But diesel generators must eventually be refueled. Further disasters might interrupt the smooth flow of refueling—delivery by truck might be interrupted by traffic congestion and damage to the traffic infrastructure.

The Japan Data Center Council (JDCC), a consortium of data center operators that boasts more than 100 members, is sending a delegate to present at the SVLG DCEE conference and to talk to data center operators and experts in Silicon Valley to find out what new technologies might help them cope with power problems. I will moderate a special session given by Atsushi Yamanaka and other JDCC members. Come and meet us, and find out how they are operating their data centers in such a constrained power environment.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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