Data centres take a green PowerNap

Bigger servers than this will benefit from PowerNap's sleepy-time economy drive
Bigger servers than this will benefit from PowerNap's sleepy-time economy drive

New technology to slash the amount of electricity used by the world's data centres is being developed at the University of Michigan.

The system includes a plan to put idle servers to sleep - called PowerNap - and RAILS (Redundant Array for Inexpensive Load Sharing), a more efficient power supplying technique.

America's Environmental Protection Agency expects the energy consumption of the nation's data centres to exceed 100 billion kWh by 2011 - about twice what the amount was in 2006, when data centres already drew more electricity than 5.8 million US households.

Power mad

Data centres waste most of the energy they draw, because they must be ready for peak processing demands much higher than the average demand.

"For the typical industrial data centre, computers are spending about four-fifths of their time doing nothing," said Thomas Wenisch, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan. said. "And they're still using 60 percent of peak power even when they're doing nothing."

Wenisch's PowerNap system would require a new operating system to coordinate near instantaneous sleeping and waking of hardware, and the power supply would need to be overhauled for it to work properly, the researcher says.

His new RAILS technique addresses this problem, replacing today's single 2,250-watt supply (powering 16 'blade' servers) with a number of smaller, 500-watt power supplies.

The University has filed for patent protection on the power-saving technology, and is currently seeking an industry partner to help bring the technology to market.

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.