Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bovine Powered Servers

As our demand grows for computing power, energy efficiency, and data storage capacity, the ability to produce the power needed in data centers is simply not keeping up with the times. The notion of reducing energy consumption in data centers has led many vendors to pursue increasingly optimistic and sometimes downright quirky ideas. HP is one such vendor which hopes to use sustainable processes in order to build data centers that are self-sufficient. In other words, construct and design a data center whose electricity is generated from a sustainable energy source and whose heat output can be recycled and reused within that same data center. This model aims to give technology companies more options for powering their servers.

In India, for example, electricity is in such high demand that there just isn't enough electricity to keep many of the data centers that are being built there up and running. "In India they need diesel generators because the power grid can't keep up with the growth," said Chandrakant Patel, one of HP Labs researchers. Patel points out that an enterprising farmer with a few cows could be the solution to this energy crisis and even offer a fresh alternative energy approach for IT managers.

So what exactly does a diesel generator have in common with a cow?

As odd as this sounds, cow manure could be a possible solution for small and medium businesses looking for cheaper real estate and electrical alternatives. With the advent of high-speed networks, there is no longer a need to locate data centers within the confines of a big city and can now be located on cheaper land, such as in the rural fields next to a dairy farm. Your average dairy cow will produces 55 kilograms of manure per day which would generate 3 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy. According to HP, a dairy farm with 10,000 cows would produce enough energy to power a 1-megawatt data center, or approximately 1,000 servers.

This recycling process works as follows. Farms already have manure collection systems which utilize anaerobic decomposition methods to breaks down the cow waste much like a sewage treatment plant would. In current systems the biomass goes into an anaerobic digester and after decomposition is released as simple methane gas. However, in HP's vision, instead of a farm burning off the methane gas for energy, which is one of the most volatile greenhouse gases, the chemical energy in that methane could be converted into electrical energy to power the data center. To complete HP's sustainable and self-sufficient vision, the heat given off from data centers will be reused as part of the energy needed to break down the biomass.

This chart provided by HP Labs shows how cow manure and server heat from data centers can be combined to create a sustainable energy alternative.

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