HP Labs offers server cooling advances

HP is developing technology to make air conditioners operate more cost effectively in data centers

Hewlett-Packard's HP Labs research centre has developed a new approach to cooling data centres by adjusting air conditioning systems to changing server loads more precisely than what's available now.

HP says its Dynamic Smart Cooling (DSC) technology, which the company claims can deliver 20 percent to 45 percent savings in cooling energy costs, depending on the size of the data centre, will be available in mid-2007.

DSC involves placing several heat sensors on racks of servers throughout the data centre, which send information on changes in temperature to a central monitoring system. As the sensors detect an increase in a server's temperature, a signal is sent to the nearest of several air conditioning units to throttle up to cool that server. When the server cools down because it's not doing as much computing, the air conditioner throttles down.

HP, which first introduced the concept of Dynamic Smart Cooling in 2003, revealed a number of additional program details Tuesday. It announced creation of a Data Center Solution Builder program with design partners that will work with HP to implement a DSC solution, which can be retrofitted into an existing data centre.

HP has already started trials of the technology is going to implement DSC in new data centres for its own operations at six U.S. locations.

Also, Pacific Gas & Electric, the power utility serving Northern California, U.S., will make rebates available to data centres that deploy DSC, said Mark Bramfitt, of PG&E.

DSC is a way of addressing an energy consumption problem data centres didn't have just five years ago, said Chandrakant Patel, an HP Fellow and one of the system designers.

"Five years ago, no one got fired for wasting energy but they did get fired if the server went down," Patel said.

But today, energy consumption is an issue and Dynamic Smart Cooling technology addresses data centre management concerns about the operating expense of powering and cooling, said Paul Perez, vice president of HP's Technology Solutions Group.

At a demonstration of the technology for media Tuesday at HP Labs in Palo Alto, California, journalists could see that the data center in a nearby room was using 117 kilowatts of electricity to stay cool. But when the DSC system kicked in, consumption dropped to 72 kilowatts.

Power consumption is, on average, 40 percent of the operating expense of running a data centre, Perez said, citing industry research. And 60 percent to 70 percent of that energy expense goes to cooling the servers, he said.

Other technology companies are working on ways to keep data centres cool, said Jonathan Eunice, founder and principal advisor at Illuminata, an IT research firm.

Chipmakers like Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are developing processors that run cooler than they have in the past, Eunice said.

HP's chief competitor, IBM, is trying to address thermal issues on a system level.

"IBM does have its services arm with the ability to send out heating experts to map the data centre hot spots and advise about efficiencies," said Eunice. IBM also offers a product called Power Executive that measures and modulates power consumption on a wide basis.

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