A peek into the future of data centers

One doesn’t need a crystal ball to see how innovations in load shifting will benefit the management of data centers

Those who speculate on where data centers may be headed often tend to consider isolated innovations, but in actuality each step forward is interconnected with many other steps. We might better visualize the data center’s future less as a series of individual strides and more like an advancing squadron of troops who rely on each other to make their way toward their objective.

Data centers must be operated with integrated management of energy, electrical infrastructure, IT and cooling, and each of these operating arenas impacts the others. For instance, we can’t discuss zero-net energy data centers without incorporating micro-grids. And micro-grids entail consideration of a range of potential renewable energy sources—not just today’s solar and wind power but also hydrogen and methane fuel cells and even geothermal and wave power. Site location is a critical aspect of data center planning, but it should be closely tied to such factors as cooling needs, availability of alternative-energy sources and political boundaries.

One area of future advancement that holds exceptional promise for integrating data center management is the opportunity for innovations in load shifting. A primary benefit of a data center is the ability to shift loads from one server to another to help get the maximum benefit from the power that the servers are collectively consuming. Owners now are exploring the benefits of moving loads from one data center to another, as well. This type of load-shifting can help:

• Assign the load to a data center location where energy and cooling costs are cheaper at any moment, because of local rate differences or the time of day—a practice often called “following the moon.”

• Manage loads that require high performance parallel computing by shifting them from power hungry CPU-based servers to GPU-based servers.

• Overcome unstable situations, such as a sudden political crisis or military conflict, in which facilities at one location may be threatened but where loads can be shifted to a safer site in another location.

• Mitigate a data disaster when operators see a center going down or know that it may be endangered by an impending hurricane or heat wave; they may be able to shift some loads to locations outside the vulnerable area.

• Make possible the further evolution of portable data centers, which may be containerized centers that can be dropped into areas recovering from a disaster or set up for companies that need significant additional computing power while their main data center is down; centers even could be positioned on ships to run offshore when land operations are impossible because of geographical, political or environmental conditions.

Load-shifting is just one capability that can make a large impact on the battle to optimize data centers and their usage. Similar progress is likely all across the range of operations for data centers, from power distribution and cooling to monitoring and automation; and ABB will remain in the vanguard as data centers advance on ever more efficient and productive operations.

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About the author

Zhenyuan Wang

Zhenyuan Wang is with the ABB Corporate Research in Raleigh-Durham, NC. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2000 with a PhD degree and have been with ABB since then. His current research interests are emerging technologies for residential, commercial and industrial applications.
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