May 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 5
Developing Green Technologies
By: Richard "Zippy" Grigonis
Green-mania is everywhere. Server farms are using DC-powered computers and other devices – you can extract 10 to 30 percent more performance out of them for the same amount of power. (Eltek Valere (News - Alert) of Norway now offers the Flatpack 2 High Efficiency Rectifier that reduces by 50 percent the amount of energy wasted in the AC-to-DC conversion process in telecom networks.) Virtualization software now eliminates low system capacity utilization and poor performance for large groups of devices. Telepresence vendors such as Cisco, HP, Tandberg and Polycom (News - Alert) are extolling the wonders of virtual travel. It goes on and on…
BT’s, Steve Rayner, Global Head of Data Center Operations and End User Technology, says, “We operate around 108 datacenters globally,” says Rayner. “We have significant telephony points of presence plus a high number of telephony exchanges in the U.K. I guess our history of 50 years in telephony is based around having DC power and fresh-air cooling as the infrastructure of choice within the telephony environment. We’ve grown over the last 25 years, with datacenters in the U.K. and we’re quietly grown other businesses, datacenters and networks globally to the point where, in real terms, our status is enormous in terms of footprint. The cost associated with running a large datacenter is astronomic. In the U.K. alone we use 0.8 percent of the country’s electrical energy. It’s a significant amount of money.”
Dave Needham, BT (News - Alert)’s Head of Datacenter Strategy, says, “Today we’re taking the learning we have within our telephony infrastructure and are applying it into our datacenter estates. In supporting the Kyoto targets BT set a target to reduce its 1996 footprint by 25 percent by 2010, and we actually achieved a 60 percent reduction. BT has now pledged to reduce its footprint by 80 percent from the 1996 figure by 2016. This is no mean feat and will require even further improvements on energy efficiency. Today we’re achieved around a 60 percent reduction on what was happening during the 1996 starting point.”
“The drive for datacenter space in the U.K. for our own use is great,” says Needham. “We’re very much ‘full up’ in our estate and therefore we need to do something in terms of how we can either get more out of it or evolve it into something very different. The choice BT has to make is how we move to new real estate and how we take the learning of the last 50 years, which somewhat goes against the trend in global center management, which resorts to high density systems and generally in terms of energy costs and efficiency is going the other way.”
“So what we’re planning to do within our 21st century network build program,” says Needham, “is to take our 50 years of learning and say, ‘we actually need a platform which we can manage around a DC power supply, and which can work with fresh air cooling using our exchanges,’ and we need to get the manufacturers to deliver equipment that can work at extremes – to ambient temperatures in excess of 40 degrees C, and humidity ranging from 10 to 90 percent. These are way outside of the current datacenter standards. I think the challenge to the industry is that by driving up high density you drive up costs. We actually look at this in a much more logical way, and we say, ‘Can we get into a situation where the motivation isn’t about driving everything smaller and hotter and getting more of it?’ We can now ‘spread it out’ and utilize fresh-air cooling capability and DC power efficiencies and scale it all into a datacenter, because we can now install such equipment in smaller operating rooms. But the question is whether we can take all that and move it into a datacenter environment, and I think that idea is pretty much in opposition to most thinking in the industry, apart from companies such as Google (News - Alert).”
So, in 2006, BT achieved its goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 60 percent over 10 years (1996-2006) and is now working toward its new goal of an overall reduction of 80 percent by 2016. The company has achieved much of its success in reducing its footprint by making several changes in the way it powers its many data centers:
As a result, over the last nine months, these technologies have reduced BT’s overall power consumption by 1 percent, a notable achievement when you consider that the company typically consumes 0.8 percent of the total power in the U.K.
Leaving No Footprints
Some companies bring about an overall reduction in carbon gas emissions by helping users avoid travel altogether.
For example, Yugma (News - Alert), based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a web meeting, desktop sharing and collaboration service that does what tools like WebEx do except it costs far less and works on Windows, Mac and Linux. Yugma offers instant real-time desktop sharing, virtual meetings and web conferencing, whiteboard, annotation and the ability to share files.
A quick, DIY Web download, Yugma is sold in a “Freemium” model: a subset of free-forever features, a larger set that is free for an evaluation period, and then sold at SaaS (News - Alert) scale (i.e. inexpensively) thereafter. Two people on a Yugma conference can: see each other’s desktops and files, control each other’s desktop applications using remote keyboard and mouse ‘a la GoToMyPC, draw diagrams for each other (“whiteboarding”), highlight and draw lines and circles on shared documents (“annotating”), pass files to each other, chat, schedule Yugma meetings, and speak to each other with microphone and earphones. During a conference session, ten or more people on a Yugma session can speak to and hear from other participants, change presenters during the same session and record the proceedings.
Best of all, Yugma is based on a lightweight Java client that sits ‘live’ on your desktop like instant messaging. Whenever the mood strikes, you can tap your friend’s virtual shoulder anywhere in the world and share what’s in front of you, just like people do in a real office.
Another company working in this area is SightSpeed (News - Alert) of Berkeley, California, which offers a high-quality, affordable web-based videoconferencing application for both businesses and consumers. SightSpeed Business is their video conferencing service for all businesses (including SMBs) designed to be easy-to-use, secure and mobile, eliminating the need for expensive, immobile and inflexible hardware. SightSpeed lets businesses conduct multi-party videoconferences, record calls for playback later by those not able to attend a “live” event, share files during a video conference and connect a spontaneous video call between registered users with one click.
SightSpeed PLUS and SightSpeed Free are consumer-focused video chat services that turn a PC or Mac into a user-friendly video phone to communicate with friends and family worldwide.
SightSpeed uses its own product internally (naturally). Although the company is based in Berkeley, California, CEO Peter Csathy (News - Alert) lives and works from his home in the San Diego area. He manages the company on a daily basis via SightSpeed’s video communications tools. Company engineers are encouraged to work no more than two days a week in the office, and to communicate via SightSpeed the rest of the work week. Other employees work remotely but remain fully functioning members of the team using the service.
Then there’s VAPPS of Hoboken, New Jersey, a technology company utilizing patent-pending audio conferencing technology to provide managed audio conferencing solutions to the SMB, Enterprise and Service Provider markets. The company has been delivering solutions to customers in each of these markets since 2003. VAPPS has an interesting audioconferencing service that offers phone conference “rooms” with two important differentiators: First, it can conference a mixed participant group of traditional PSTN phone and Skype (News - Alert) Internet telephony users. Second, it transmits a richer, more “present” voice quality than can be achieved with traditional phones. VAPPS calls its flagship service (Highspeedconferencing.com) “High-Definition Conferencing” because by using broadband IP and wideband codecs, it delivers a wider range of voice frequencies than the traditional copper-wire phone system ever could. When conferees really sound like they’re in the room with you (a situation where “s” and “f” don’t sound the same, and you can tell by the reverberation if the room is furnished and carpeted), you alleviate the ear fatigue common to long phone conferences. You can also better determine who’s talking at any point in time.
Highspeedconferencing.com is value-priced and targets the small and mid-size business markets. VAPPS also works closely with large enterprise and service provider customers, tailoring custom audio conferencing solutions for their internal use and even for re-sale.
Something New Under the Sun
Telco Systems (News - Alert) is a leader in innovative, multi-service Carrier Ethernet access and transport solutions that enable the migration to a service-assured all IP/Ethernet/MPLS network for carriers, MSOs, service providers, municipalities and enterprises. Telco systems also provides custom-designed products for many well-known Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).
Dr. Zvi Marom is the founder and CEO of BATM Advanced Communications, the parent company of Telco Systems, which is based in Foxboro, Massachusetts. He started BATM in 1992 as a bootstrap and made it a world-class company.
Marom says, “We work with many companies, especially Scandinavian companies such as Nokia (News - Alert) and others that are very ecology and environmentally-minded. So, green technology is something that we have been thinking about for at least the last five years. We’re in the execution phase of several steps.”
“People are talking about cars and airplanes, but if you look closely, you see that the IP field produces far more carbon dioxide than many other industries combined,” says Marom. “Why? An average server has as much a carbon dioxide signature as an automobile. Whereas a car operates three or four hours a day, the server normally works 24 hours a day. So if you look for the biggest consumer of electricity, you find Google, with its thousands of servers, and Microsoft (News - Alert). The carbon signature of companies with large server farms is enormous. People don’t pay attention because of popular imagery. Look at a car and you see it produces exhaust. Look at a server and you don’t see any pipes spewing gases. But servers consume lots of power.”
“So our first step has been to design our equipment in a way so that it will be extremely economic in terms of electricity consumption,” says Marom. “We designed the electronics in a way that if you compare our access platform and routing switches, they are far more efficient than other equipment on the market. Unfortunately, many people today don’t pay attention to how much electricity a devices uses. People simply want to know how much the device itself costs. The fact that you can save them electricity is not something of which they are currently concerned. Perhaps when electric bills go up the public will pay more attention.”
“We master today several technologies – I don’t want to elaborate too much, but we can do very efficient power conversion and dissipation,” says Marom. “And we recommend that our customers buy DC-based equipment, since you can get more performance out of them. We have all kinds of technologies that basically cause our equipment to use less power than they normally would.”
“Step two is what we recently installed in Israel,” says Marom. “We looked for a source of energy which would be easy to get. As it happens, Israel, like California, Nevada and New Mexico, is very sunny, so we investigated solar power. But photovoltaic cells don’t provide enough electricity, considering how much they cost. That was a problem. However, in Israel, like many other countries, there is a differential price for electricity: if you’re using electricity between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. you pay six times more than what you use between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.. The idea is to help the country to maintain a balanced power grid. This is a main factor in building new power plants, because the power plants are working certain hours of the day, and it isn’t practical to try to accumulate power in huge batteries near the power stations.”
“So we asked ourselves how people could save electricity during these critical hours when the rates are very high,” says Marom. “We concluded that what we needed was a very efficient solar system that would have two properties: First, it would be able to supply us with electricity directly, which means that we can collect the power and send it directly to our electrical network without doing anything complicated and, second, it would provide us with steam under pressure which we can use both for heating and cooling purposes. Cooling is very important because air conditioning is the biggest consumer of electricity after the servers. In hot countries such as Israel a great deal of cooling is necessary. So we needed both electricity and heating/cooling.”
“We looked for a partner to work with on the communications side,” says Marom, “and we examined companies that had know-how in terms of energy transformation. Thanks to my former association with academia as the head of the Electronics Department of Israel’s Open University, two professors, including Avi Kribus, Professor at Tel Aviv University’s School of Mechanical Engineering, founded a start-up inside our facility in Israel. After a few years they developed something that looks like a parabolic satellite dish. This is more efficient than any system that we know of. It produces two things: First, photovoltaic energy that can be connected directly to the devices or directly to the building’s electrical network, and secondly, it produces heat at temperatures above 100 degrees C., which means that we’re producing steam and we can use it to power our cooling devices. Our roof was empty anyway, and that’s where the solar collecting dishes are. By the June 2008 timeframe we’ll be able to kiss some of the electric company’s bills goodbye.”
The Green-Powered Internet Movement
According to Netcraft Web Server Research, the web added 20.4 million websites in 2007. High-traffic websites use thousands, or even tens of thousands, of web servers in datacenters. Over the last five years the increase in use of these systems, and the power and cooling infrastructure that supports them, have doubled energy use to 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. By 2011, electrical consumption by data centers is projected to nearly double to 100 billion kWh, costing $7.4 billion, and rising to about 2.5 percent of all U.S. electric consumption (U.S. EPA Study 2007).
The power to run these servers has traditionally come from electricity generated by fossil fuels. This has a major impact on carbon and other environmental pollutants — it’s estimated that it produces more pollution than 22 million cars on the road each year. Indeed, the energy required to power the Internet now produces more pollution than all aviation worldwide.
But now there arises the Green-powered Internet movement.
Greenest Host offers a “zero emissions” web hosting solution for individuals and small-to-midsized businesses that is 100 percent powered by solar energy panels. The company was founded on the principal that, in addition to being the ethically superior choice, “going green” can also provide better performance and better value. There no longer has to be a trade-off between making the right choice for the environment and having the absolute best quality of service at a market competitive price.
Greenest Host CEO Mike Corrales says, “Our server farm sits in a data center situated 90 miles northeast of San Diego, in the amazingly sunny inland desert of Southern California. The center is powered by 120 solar panels and the year-round sun. At night, battery energy charged from the panels power the facility. The data center, network and servers were designed from the ground up to use the lowest amount of energy possible. We use new AMD (News - Alert) Opteron powered servers, which consume 60 percent less energy and generate 50 percent less heat.”
“Most other so-called green web hosts run their centers with ordinary electricity and servers and then try to deal with their pollution sins by purchasing renewable energy credits,” says Corrales. “We’re not like that. In fact, a group of us is designing a green roof for the data center capable of slashing cooling and heating requirements by up to 50 percent. The center is also in the process of becoming LEED certified with the U.S. Green Building Council.”
Many data centers are subject to “server sprawl” because every time they get a new application or need a new server, they get a new physical server to gobble up more electricity and they need more cooling. In most data centers, the servers are running at 4 percent to 8 percent capacity.
“But by using VMWare’s virtualization software technology,” says Corrales, “individual physical servers are converged into a resource of ‘virtual machines,’ increasing the physical servers’ efficiency and shrinking our data center’s server footprint, cooling needs, and electricity usage. All of the servers are running within VMWare’s virtualization technology to reduce cooling and electrical requirements with a 30:1 ratio of virtual servers to physical servers.”
“Each server we operate — as opposed to a server operated and cooled in a conventional power-grid-connected data center — saves more than 2000 kWh annually of ‘dirty’ electricity consumption,” says Corrales. “That’s the environmental equivalent of saving 107 gallons of gasoline from being burned into the atmosphere each year. So, for every five servers we host, it’s like taking the pollution of one passenger car off the road for a year. We estimate that converting even one million personal and small business websites to green power would result in pollution reductions equivalent to taking 2,000 passenger cars taken off the road per year, or 1,070,000 gallons of gasoline not burned.”
Greenest Host is considering constructing a wind-powered facility
Whereas the public’s imagination has been captured with talk about renewable energy — wind farms, wave and tide generators, solar panels and biofuels — and even more exotic ideas such as controlled fusion power and “zero point energy” production, many experts advise that the first and easiest step to becoming more environmentally conscious and “green” is to simply reduce energy use. Instead of converting a datacenter to DC, you can start by switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and add some insulation to the walls. It’s a pale shade of green, but it’s a start. IT
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
Greenest Host (web.greenesthost.com)
Sight Speed (www.sightspeed.com)
Telco Systems (www.telco.com)
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