Stanford Universities Green Data Center Efforts

The Chronicle of Higher Education writes on Stanford Universities green data center efforts. Nothing really new, but nice to see that this issue has made it into a university publication.

Here are some nuggets.

Now the pipes that supply cold water to help keep the servers cool are running at full capacity. The building has trouble taking in the huge amounts of electricity that modern-day servers require. For each dollar spent on computers, the center must spend an equal amount of money to build the power and cooling systems to keep them running.

That cost "has been killing us," says Richard P. Mount, the center's head of scientific computing. The price of storing and processing data, in fact, is hurting every college and university in the country.

In response, some institutions are embracing greener technologies, as much to keep costs down as to help the environment. Stanford is moving toward building a new center that uses outside air instead of chilled water, and it hopes to save just over $3-million per year. "Arguably, this pays for itself," says Phil Reese, the university's faculty and research computing strategist. "There's not many arguments you can give that are that strong." And there are other steps, like consolidating servers and outsourcing services, that are less expensive than building a new facility and reduce data's budget-devouring appetite, computer experts told The Chronicle.

and, here is a summary of the Stanford University Problem.

At Stanford, leaders realized the depth of the problem when plans for every new major building included requests for major computing facilities inside of them, says Mr. Reese. The requests were symptomatic of a larger problem that plagues many institutions, Mr. Reese says: Data centers are spread out across the campus, making it more difficult to ensure that the computing facilities are energy efficient.

In response, the university is moving toward building a new, greener data center off-campus, on the site of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. The new data center would serve the university's research needs as well as take over half of the computing capacity of the linear accelerator itself, alleviating some of its infrastructure problems.

The new facility would be twice as energy efficient as the university's current model, Mr. Reese says. The building is designed to take advantage of Northern California's temperate climate, cooling the servers with circulated outside air instead of using chilled water, which is expensive to cool down. It would also expel the hot air given off by the servers, reducing the need for external cooling.

Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are mentioned as outsourcing alternatives.

Some of the most energy-efficient data centers are those run by technology companies like Google and Microsoft and the online retailer, whose profits depend on finding cost-effective ways to store and process data. In the long term, experts expect many colleges to export much of their operations to companies like these to save money and focus on what they know best.

Already, more than 1,000 colleges have signed up for e-mail service through Google or Microsoft, helping those colleges reduce, if only slightly, their need for on-campus data centers. Despite some concerns about student privacy, many colleges have reported that letting professionals take care of e-mail results in significant savings.