While the general issue of building more energy efficient datacenters has resulted in an increase in energy efficiency in both power and cooling technologies, HP Labs is taking the approach that it is possible to build datacenters that have zero impact on the public utility grid. They believe that the right techniques and technologies in construction and operation can result in a datacenter that consumes net-zero energy from the grid over its lifetime, has a 2 year payback, and meets its service level agreements.
A simplified view of the approach is this; design your datacenter with onsite power generation using renewable sources and run it with software that manages power availability and matches it to the IT workload required. The goal of the HP Labs model is to make the required external power (i.e., that what you get from the utility grid) zero over the life of the datacenter. To do this requires maintaining a balanced energy budget, which, in a production environment, would be much more difficult than it sounds.
The architecture being proposed (and utilized in HP Labs EcoPod testing) is broken into four modules:
4. Verification and Reporting
Prediction uses analytics to predict the availability of power and pending IT workload, planning handles the scheduling of workloads based on resource availability, with the goal of matching the workload to the power availability, execution handles the real-time management of power matched to IT workload, and verification and reporting works to identify mismatches in the planning and execution, allowing the resources and IT requirements to be more carefully aligned to meet the power consumption goals while still meeting the IT needs.
HP Labs has been testing this concept using a demonstration setup in Palo Alto, CA. The demonstrator uses a photovoltaic array to provide on-site power and open air cooling to provide free-air cooling capacity. The pod is connected to the grid for power when the need exceeds the capabilities of the PV array and has mechanical chillier capability for enhanced cooling, as well.
The PV array gives the prediction and IT load management software a serious test, as the amount of power delivered is variable, based on the amount of sunlight that the array sees. This variability gets HP Labs the opportunity to more clearly refine their prediction and workload management algorithms, as it makes for a much more restricted environment than a bio-gas plant, for example, which would deliver a standardized level of power.
It also highlights the "do nothing" and do nothing well" approach that is part of this process, as the ability to dynamically provision servers and applications and simply turn off servers means that they can focus on a goal of high-levels of server utilization (upwards of 90%) rather than the common datacenter occurrence of large numbers of servers running at around 30% capacity.
The net-zero datacenter approach is a ground up implementation of datacenter construction, operation, and best-practices. The HP labs demonstrator, is just that; a demonstration of the capabilities that could be found in such an environment, and not a production datacenter implementation. But the concepts being developed for the net-zero approach, especially in operations management of applications and systems, would likely be backwardly compatible with existing datacenters. It will be interesting to see what HP does with this technology.