Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Top Five Sustainable DataCenter Stories of 2012 

The end of the year is always a good time for annual lists, including "The most important stories of the year." Well, we haven't been around for a year, but we'll take a stab at it. Most of the really important stuff happened toward the end of the year anyway.

The end of the year is always a good time for annual lists, including "The most important stories of the year." Well, we haven't been around for a year, but we'll take a stab at it. Most of the really important stuff happened toward the end of the year anyway.

Apparently, Datacenters Are Dirty, Power-Sucking Hogs

Personally, the most important issue to me was the New York Times article, "Power, Pollution and the Internet." It came out in September, just a couple weeks before I started the process of launching Green Computing Report. It got the industry talking about the issue, complaining about how dated the article seemed, and forcing them to recognize that it's important to get the word out about what the industry is doing. I'm here to help.


The Adoption of Fuel Cells

2012 may be the year that fuel cells really got their start as a power source for data centers. In March, fuel cell maker Bloom Energy launched a new business division to target the data center business. It has has some high-visibility successes: Some big companies put in large fuel cell arrays at some big facilities. EBay put in a 6 MW system in Utah, while Apple expanded its fuel cell farm from 4.8 MW to 10 MW in North Carolina. In April Microsoft announced in a blog (which has since disappeared) that it was planning to use fuel cells to power datacenters, adding the twist that the fuel cells themselves could be powered by biogas. So far, however, it has only announced an experimental mini data center in Wyoming that will use a 300kW fuel cell from FuelCell Energy, getting its natural gas from an adjacent water treatment facility. The idea is to test the concept in order to see if it can be expanded.

Rise of ARM -- And Decline of Intel?

The need for more power-efficient datacenters is starting to push non-Intel microprocessors, such as ARM chips, into the server. Dell and Penguin Computing released servers with the chips, a year after Hewlett Packard began tests to see if businesses would even consider ARM-based servers. Members of the OpenStack cloud community collaborated on an ARM-based cloud for testing. The potential for power savings is a big incentive.

Intel has expressed a bit of paranoia about ARM's potential to encroach on its business. And for good reason. Non-Intel MPUs have already gained huge volume market share due to the displacement of Wintel PCs with Android and Apple OS smart phones and tablets. Check out the 2012 Internet Trends Yearend Update presentation by Mary
Meeker at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Slide 24 of the 88-slide presentation shows that Wintel has dropped from a 96% market share to 35%. At least, in volume if not revenues.

But Intel is responding. At SC12 it released the Xeon Phi 5110P co-processor that claims a very high FLOPS per watt capability, although my colleague, Michael Feldman, over at HPCwire suggests that it may be edged out on performance by the NVIDIA Tesla K20X. In December Intel announced the low-power Atom S1200 SoC, beating ARM to the market with a 64-bit power-saving MPU.

Next year will bring more strong pushes from Intel in this area, including its new line of Avoton chips. Maybe it'll even find a chip company to buy.

Google Opens A Few Datacenter Doors.

Google surprised many people who build or run datacenters when it released photographs of the interior of some of its datacenters and talked -- a little -- about how it uses sustainable energy and designs efficient cooling systems -- including a datacenter in Finland that uses sea water to cool its servers.

It even gave Wired Magazine's Steven Levy -- who recently published a book about the company, with its cooperation -- a personal tour of some of the facilities.

GreenPeace Puts Pressure on Companies To Clean Up Datacenters--And Offers Some Praise

Greenpeace has an annual list of Datacenter Cleanliness, and some important companies did not fare so well. Greenpeace singled out Amazon, Apple and Microsoft as companies that are "all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to source of electricity, and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds." Akamai was praised as the only company reporting its CUE, or Carbon Utilization Effectiveness.

When rated on four categories--"Energy Transparency," "Infrastructure Siting," "Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Mitigation," and "Renewables and Advocacy"-- scored three F's and a D. That's a grade point average of 0.25; not very good for a company whose CEO got a 4.2 GPA at Princeton with a double major in computer science and engineering. Apple scored three D's and an F, while Microsoft at least got passing grades with three C's and a D. Twitter, which wasn't singled out for criticism, was almost as bad as Amazon with two D's and two F's. Greenpeace has also singled out Amazon and Microsoft with public protests to let everyone know its disappointment with the apparent lack of concern about sustainability from those companies.

The only companies who got an A in any category were Akamai (A, B, C, D; a 2.5 average) and Google, which got the best grades (A, C and two B's for a GPA of 3.0.) Greenpeace is a tough grader.

However, on the Clean Energy Index, a reflection of how much clean energy each company uses, the scores were very different, ranging from Yahoo's favorable 56.4% to's 4%.

Nevertheless, Greenpeace also praised the industry in the report. For one, it sees "positive signs of collaboration and open source sharing of best practices in both hardware and software design among IT leaders to help accelerate improvement and deployment of energy efficient IT design." Secondly, companies are starting to take some initiative. "There have been increasing signs that more IT companies are beginning to take a proactive approach in ensuring their energy demand can be met with available renewable sources of electricity, and will increasingly play a role in shaping our energy future," the report said.

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