From the Valley of the Green Giant, Google Energy Czar Lowers the Heat

1/23/09

Bill Weihl, Google’s green energy czar, says the computer you’re likely using now is a bit like a toaster. It takes in energy and produces heat. A typical network server is more energy-efficient, but Weihl says it’s usually loaded with cheap parts and still wastes a third of the power it consumes, which emanates as heat. That’s not really hot enough to toast bread, and probably not enough to bring a teapot to boil. But a key issue for the industry is that it takes as much electricity to cool a typical data center as it takes to run the servers inside it.

So it was no minor accomplishment for Google to recently cut its energy use roughly in half, which is what Weihl told a conference in San Diego yesterday afternoon. You could even say it makes Google a green giant in the Valley (ho, ho, ho). It’s also worth noting that Weihl says engineers at the Mountain View, CA, technology colossus achieved the reduction by rejecting industry “best practices” and designing their own servers and data centers.

The two-day symposium on “Greening the Internet Economy” in itself represents a growing recognition by the ICT industry (Information and Communications Technology) that the computer and everything it’s connected to consumes enormous amounts of power. Also noteworthy is the fact that the California Public Utilities Commission co-sponsored the conference with U.C. San Diego, because of the role the agency has played in recent years in promoting renewable energy and curbing global warming. Weihl, a former computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former CTO of Akamai Technologies, got top billing as keynote speaker on the opening day.

Weihl says Google has committed itself to being carbon neutral by reducing power use, relying on renewable energy and investing in projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions. It’s seen by many as a noble goal, but going green also impacts Google’s bottom line. For the past seven years, Google has been designing its own servers because it saves money over the long run. Weihl says the company spends between $20 and $100 more for each server it buys, depending on size. But he says the extra cost pays for itself in reduced energy costs within six to 12 months.

The Internet search engine giant also designs and builds its own data centers, using evaporative cooling to keep its systems running. Citing figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, Weihl says the typical enterprise data center has a power usage effectiveness, or PUE, of 2. That means a facility consumes twice as much power as the computer equipment inside it. Weihl says Google has reduced its PUE to 1.2.

“Overall, through the efficiency work that we’ve done by … Next Page »

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  • http://energyboomer.com Birney Summers

    The waste heat from data centers is an under used asset. Preheating water for restrooms and cafeterias comes to mind as a possible recovery method. Google could probably supply preheated water for the whole community. Evaporative cooling (cooling towers)works very well but consumes large volumes of water and Calif. is chronically short of water. Maybe they can provide free hot tub use for everyone.

  • http://www.flometrics.com Steve Harrington

    If you used direct liquid cooling, you could get the water up to 40-50C without overheating the processors, which would be useful for a lot of applications.

    The water consumption for 300 servers is about the same as for a typical household, and you can use reclaimed water, so it is not as bad as using all the electricity for air conditioning.

    Steve Harrington
    Flometrics