The data-center term keeps trending with new advancements almost daily. Recently, Microsoft that has captured the attention of data center enthusiasts and environmentalists at the same time. Those interested in green data center developments, must, therefore, read this interesting news story.

Microsoft has formed a dedicated research team that hunts for innovative ideas to make its data center infrastructure both efficient and cost-effective at the same time. This time they have come up with a launch of a pilot data center run entirely by natural gas located in Seattle. The project has been coined as ‘Advanced Energy Lab’ and is in some way related to an earlier project by Microsoft which was initiated in Southern California.

The Earlier Project: An Innovative Idea of Fuel-Cell Powered Data Centers

The previous project was a collaboration of Microsoft’s data center research group with a university to test the unconventional idea of placing gas fuel cells inside IT racks. The 20-rack data center was built with the help of McKinstry and Cummins. It tested the concept of the fuel-cell-powered data center to decrease dependency on the electrical grid.

The fuel cell powered data centers do exist as such and mainly use cells that acts as supplement energy supply (as in case of North Carolina based Apple data center) or act as main energy supply (for example, eBay’s data center in Utah)

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Shortcomings of Electrical Grids

  • Electrical grids are less reliable especially when we talk about data center power supply that plays a crucial role and can give a nightmare with major outage breaks.
  • Energy goes through a lot of transformation process and requires travelling long distances before being supplied at final consumption points. At every conversion/transformation step, some energy is lost. Moreover, equipment used in the overall process are multiple and subject to failure at any point of time. Multiple equipment failure could lead to more worries and downtime.

 

The Solution: (as conceived by Microsoft Advanced Energy Lab)

If energy generation can be achieved right at consumption points, it reduces energy loses and make the entire energy delivery chain simple and manageable.

 

Christian Belady and Sean James, top Microsoft infrastructure researchers, wrote in a blog post, “Microsoft’s pilot in Seattle has natural gas pipelines running directly to the fuel cells in IT racks.  “What makes this project so disruptive is how radically it simplifies the process of powering servers and how this could almost double the energy efficiency of datacenters—all while reducing costs and improving reliability,” Christian Belady and Sean James, top Microsoft infrastructure researchers, wrote in a blog post,”

Last fall, we shared our ambition to simplify the data center substantially. Or, as something that we have been saying for the past decade, “make the datacenter disappear.” In fact, almost exactly 10 years ago, we rolled out our concept called “Tent City,” where we demonstrated the idea of airside economization to greatly simplify and improve cooling efficiency. Since then, we have been doing that, in part, by increasing our use of renewable energy and using data insights to drive meaningful changes in the way we design, build, and operate our data centers. But we’re not stopping there. We’re also investing in next-generation clean energy technologies that will help us grow our cloud responsibly, while also advancing a more sustainable grid for all.

Today, we’re excited to announce our partnership with McKinstry and Cummins to build the world’s first gas datacenter. In this pilot, racks are directly connected to natural gas pipes and fully powered by integrated fuel cells instead of traditional electrical gear. The Advanced Energy Lab is a 20-rack data center pilot located in Seattle. What makes this project so disruptive is how radically it simplifies the process of powering servers and how this could almost double the energy efficiency of datacenters—all while reducing costs and improving reliability.

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