Clarkson takes on partners to develop efficient data centers
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 9:12 am

Clarkson University President Tony Collins, at center in dark suit, welcomes industry partners to kick off the first meeting of what they are calling a green distributed performance-optimized data center project, to make data centers more energy efficient.

POTSDAM -- Researchers who hope to make the data center industry more efficient with distributed networks and renewable energy met at Clarkson University recently.

The interdisciplinary project makes use of a distributed network of data centers to make this energy-hungry technology more efficient and cost-effective.

It is based on a simple idea: Sending data over fiber-optic networks is far more energy efficient than moving power over transmission lines, even if the data is in another part of the country. And, the distance would be invisible to the computer user doing the data processing on the network.

Given the rapid growth in demand for data processing, this innovative approach to data center design and operation could help offset the growing power loads required by the data center industry while providing a highly cost-effective way to use renewable energy sources.

An average-sized commercial data center consumes around one megawatt of electricity during normal operations. In New York State, data centers account for three percent of all electricity consumed, and demand in this sector is expected to double over the next five years.

The project is shaped around ideas from the AMD Office of Research and Extreme Concepts and Clarkson University faculty, led by Professors Pier Marzocca and Ajit Achuthan from Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, Kerop Janoyan from Civil and Environmental Engineering, Jeanna Matthews from Computer Science, and Stephen Bird from Political Science.

If successful and deployed on a larger scale, this project could bring significant energy savings.

Clarkson engineers and students will experiment with managing data through a network of servers powered by “clean” energy, such as wind turbines or photovoltaic systems.

Backers envision a system that could be scaled to serve any potential customer -- colleges, hospitals, corporations, or any entity that requires data processing.

The distributed -- or "cloud computing" -- network is key to this project. For example, sites could be installed at wind turbine sites in Albany and Buffalo. If the wind is blowing in Buffalo, processing would be routed there. If Albany is generating more power, the processing would be routed there.

NYSERDA is investing $300,000 in the project, which will leverage an additional $374,000 in private funds.

Clarkson will be supported by business partners that will contribute equipment or expertise to the project. Principal partners include AMD and HP. Other companies taking part in the project include GE Global Research Center, Niskayuna, N.Y.; Custom Electronics, Oneonta, N.Y.; AWS TruePower, Albany, N.Y.; Vento Tek Inc., Potsdam, N.Y.; Timbre Inc. Potsdam, N.Y.; Intertek, Cortland, N.Y.; ARI Green Energy, Yulee, Fla. and Ballard Power Systems Inc., Burnaby, B.C., Canada.