My friend and colleague Chandrakant Patel of HP Laboratories has been a leader in thermal management and energy efficiency for large scale data centers for nearly 20 years. He has made it his life's work to make IT more energy efficient, and his vision has grown progressively broader over the years. He recognizes that information technologies such as PCs, mobile phones and cloud computing are becoming an increasingly pervasive and vital infrastructure for modern society, and the need to measure, manage and reduce the energy footprint of technology is becoming urgent. I'd like to share a few of the big ideas Dr. Patel is working on.
Exergy as a metric for environmental sustainability
Exergy is a thermodynamic term for the amount of energy available to do work. Although energy is never destroyed, exergy is destroyed in the processes of extracting raw materials, manufacturing products, transporting materials and finished products, operating/using products, and disposing or recycling products. Dr. Patel proposes using exergy as a single metric that captures the energy (and therefore carbon) footprint of a product throughout its entire cradle-to-grave lifecycle. If you are an IEEE member, you can read a technical paper on the topic: Lifetime exergy consumption as a sustainability metric for informat...
End to end management of data center energy demand
Through the dynamic allocation of power, IT and cooling resources, Patel designs energy-optimized data centers. In one large-scale experiment, a 70,000 sq ft data center was outfitted with a sensor network of >7000 sensors, and the capability to dynamically manage compute workloads, power and cooling. The energy savings realized were equivalent to a reduction of 7,500 tons of CO2 footprint annually.
Based on his work on sustainability for the IT ecosystem, Chandra believes that he can apply similar techniques to the measurement, management and energy optimization of human cities. He is studying the application of pervasive sensing, discovery, data mining, policy-based management and scalable resource 'microgrids' to city-scale infrastructures for power, water, transportation and waste. For further reading: a short, easy article
and an in-depth powerpoint slide deck
Huge power hungry data centers like Google's, with hundreds of thousands of servers, are not going away. We are well on our way to a mobile phone for every human being. Technology is a great tool for humanity, but it also carries huge environmental costs. Work like Chandrakant Patel's research may not have the street level appeal of making batteries from dirt, but it is crucial to our future.
Thank you Gene