NSF awards grant for energy-efficient computing study

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is providing $2 million over three years to the University of California, San Diego to test computing systems' energy efficiency in real-world conditions.

Testing will be performed on the Sun Modular Datacenter at the university. The data center will be instrumented for the GreenLight Project to offer full-scale processing and storage to test how to improve computing energy efficiency rates.

The NSF infrastructure grant allows the program to acquire two Sun Modular Datacenter S20s; one is already installed, and the second will come in the third year of the project. The data centers can accommodate as many as 280 servers, with an eco-friendly design that can reduce cooling costs by as much as 40 percent compared to traditional server rooms.

During testing, sensors will be installed in the controlled data center environment to measure temperature (at 40 points in the air stream), humidity, energy consumption and other variables, in addition to monitoring the internal measurements of the servers. Researchers hope to use the data to find ways to minimize the power needed to run computers, to make use of novel cooling sources, and to develop software that automates the optimizing of power strategies for each given computing process.

'We will be running full-scale applications on full-scale computing platforms, so we will be able to draw conclusions about the comparative amount of energy that is consumed by one workload versus another,' said Larry Smarr, director of UC San Diego's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and co-principal investigator on GreenLight. 'We expect that this new approach will redefine the fundamentals of computer systems engineering and accelerate adoption of a transformative concept for the computer industry: green cyber infrastructure.'

The information technology industry consumes as much energy, and has roughly the same carbon footprint, as the airline industry. Part of the IT industry's energy requirement comes from the need to cool the equipment. Every dollar spent on power for technology equipment requires that another dollar be spent on cooling ' equivalent to double the cost of the hardware itself over three years. As a result, cooling and power issues are now becoming a major factor in system design.

'If we are going to continue to allow ourselves the benefits of advances in computing, we need to understand power and cooling requirements much better,' said Thomas DeFanti, a research scientist at Calit2 and principal investigator of the GreenLight project.

NSF's contribution will come from its Major Research Instrumentation program. An additional $600,000 in matching funds will come from the Calit2 and the UC San Diego's Administrative Computing and Telecommunications group.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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