DOE to IT industry: We'll help you get more energy-efficient, if it costs us

The Department of Energy is giving out $47 million in grants to improve energy efficiency features in IT and communications data centers.

Together, enterprise computing giant Hewlett-Packard and power efficiency specialist Eaton have snagged a $7.4 million grant from the Department of Energy to help fund research focused on improving energy efficiency in IT products.

The pair's joint proposal actually received the third-largest grant out of the $47 million in total being focused on companies in the IT and communications sectors. The projects are focused on three areas:

  • Equipment and Software - Changing core components of a data or telecommunications center in order to optimize energy use
  • Power Supply Chain - Developing technologies to minimize energy waste as power moves from one system to another
  • Cooling - More effective methods for reducing heat

Doug Oathout, vice president of converged infrastructure at HP, says the grant will help HP and Eaton accelerate the time to market for 8 or 9 new technologies that range from more efficient power distribution components to better cooling and rack designs.

The specific "products" that will emerge from their work within the next two years include a rack system that includes internal power and cooling. The system will be designed to handle high voltage and chilled water AND it will be able to accept feeds from alternative energy sources, such as solar panels or wind turbines. The two aim to focus roughly 80 percent of the energy consumed by the technology on meaningful processing and "work" with only 20 percent dedicated to cooling concerns, Oathout says. Right now, the energy used by data centers is split roughly 50-50 between those two functions.

"If you had to design from scratch, this is how you design your system," he says.

Yes, it will be available as part of existing HP volume server lines. Which means, yes, this is something that will help with retrofits, which is realistically the way that most companies are going to fix their data center energy consumption.

Other grant recipients include very familiar names, such as the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center (which has snagged a total of $3.9 for two different projects: one in equipment and software, and one in cooling).

Two companies that I've never heard of snagged more money than HP/Eaton. They were SeaMicro, which is a stealth mode company that I am now determined to find out more about since they pulled down $9.3 million. Their Web site points to unique expertise in data networking, computation and data center design. The other company is Power Assure, which got $5 million for power management software that can help reduce energy usage by up to 50 percent in data centers and larger server farms.