The rapidly shrinking government data center

December 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

The rapidly shrinking government data center

The government data center is shrinking.

Of all the technologies that government uses, data centers will be among the fastest to evolve in the new year. In fact, data centers will look nothing like they did even a few years ago. 

Although it’s not the direct goal of these changes, each one will tend to shrink the data center, starting with technology that will shave off a few inches all the way to some that may cause the data center to almost disappear altogether. 

Stripping down, warming up

The biggest energy drain for most data centers beyond powering the computers themselves  is cooling them.  A lot of effort recently has gone into finding more efficient ways to cool down hot computers, since heat slows down processing and can ultimately lead to hardware failure. There’s been a big move to water cooling, even in traditional environments. 

In the government arena, the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has built what could be the most efficient – and coolest – data center in the world. Its Golden, Colo., Energy Systems Integration Facility, which will start its first full year of operations in 2014, is designed for researching how to best use renewable energy. 

Every bit of energy at the facility is being re-used in some way. For example, it is using hot water from the cooling process to heat the facility instead of just bleeding it off as a waste product inside big cooling towers. The ESIF also directs hot water under its sidewalks, melting snow and ice away during the Colorado winters.

Computers at the facility are all water-cooled. Water will enter the facility at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit and leave at about 120 degrees. That provides plenty of cooling for systems and also plenty of heat energy to be used for other purposes around the building. As another energy advantage, running pumps to move the water takes much less energy than running air conditioners.

Data centers without walls

New efficiency tactics in the data center playbook include stripping out extra metal on all system housings, using curtains instead of walls and sealing off unused sections of the data center so energy isn’t wasted trying to cool empty space.

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