HP gets $7.4M DOE grant to build energy-efficient modular data center

The two-year program will result in a containerized unit that uses 38 percent less energy to support a 100-kilowatt IT load.

Feb 2nd, 2010

The United States Department of Energy has been saying for some time that increasing energy efficiency in IT and telecom operations is important, citing research that shows IT and telcom facilities--data centers--account for approximately 120 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually. Recently the DOE put taxpayer money where its mouth is, awarding $47 million in grants to support the development of new technologies that can improve energy efficiency in these environments.

HP received more than $7.4 million of that $47 million grant money to develop a modular data center with integrated AC, cooling, and distributed energy systems that will reduce energy requirements. Power-management device manufacturer Eaton is a co-principal investigator on the project. The joint project will develop a fully enclosed IT rack system that provides its own internal power and cooling. High voltage and chilled water will act as the primary inputs to the system and it will also accept alternative-energy power sources such as wind and solar power. The grant program works on an 80/20 split, with grant funds covering 80 percent of the project cost and the petitioner covering the remaining 20 percent.

HP says the system will offer a 38-percent reduction in energy use to support a 100-kilowatt IT load, equaling a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 400 tons annually.

Speaking from HP's Houston, TX facility, where the project is being carried out, HP Rack and Power Group director of engineering Rob Mann provided details on the technology project as well as the grant process. "One reason the DOE liked our proposal is that it's do-able in the two-year window they're looking at," he said. "We have a modular cooling system today that's a branded solution. We'll take some of that branded technology and apply it to this system."

This system will be much different in function from the pods or self-contained data centers that get most of today's press, as Mann explained. "Containerized pods are typically in either 40- or 20-foot containers and are being fully stuffed, integrated with IT equipment," he said. "With very dense equipment in a data center, self-containment has its advantages. The problem is, the scale is pretty big and these pods are usually located outside a data center."

The concept of this technology is based on the fact that today a lot of data centers don't have space problems, but rather, have power and cooling problems. That is, they run out of available power rather than square footage. HP's solution will have "100-kilowatt maximum capacity per containerized solution," Mann said. "That can be four, six, or eight racks."

Experience has shown that users have varying definitions of a "high-capacity rack system," Mann explained. "Some think 10 kilowatts-per-rack is big; others thik 25 kilowatts-per-rack is. We want to scale this to customer requirements and keep it within the 100-kilowatt cap."

The DOE requires, as a condition of the grant, that the system achieve a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) maximum of 1.25. "The closer you get to 1, the more efficient you are," Mann explained. "In order to do that, you've got to be in a controlled environment."

The program is broken into several elements, including mechanical structure, power distribution, cooling system, and battery backup. It also will include management systems. And Mann emphasized the inclusion of an alternative-energy interface. "A lot of data centers are looking at wind or solar. We're looking to include that in addition to traditional power, to accommodate those data centers."

When the $47 million in grant awards were announced in January, DOE Secretary Steven Chu said, "These Recovery Act projects will improve the efficiency of a strong and growing sector of the American economy. By reducing energy use and energy costs for the IT and telecommunications industries, this funding will help create jobs and ensure the sector remains competitive. The expected growth of these industries means that new technologies adopted today will yield benefits for many years to come."

On the Web: Detail of the $47M grant awards (PDF)

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