3 Ways that Data Center Hardware is Lowering Power Consumption for a More Sustainable Future
Many have felt the impact of the current global energy shortage in some form or other in the last several months. But according to experts, we have been in the midst of an energy crisis since even before the Russia-Ukraine war erupted. And while oil and gas prices surge and governments expand energy resource options to increase supply, the power demands of the modern world only grow.
Unsurprisingly, technology takes a non-trivial slice of the energy pie. Digital Realty, one of the world’s largest data center operators, reports that about 3% of global electricity output goes toward powering data centers. AI models are becoming larger and more complex, requiring greater compute performance and more power. For instance, training a large language model like MegatronLM uses the equivalent of a year’s worth of energy for three households. The world’s growing interest in cryptocurrency has serious environmental implications, as Bitcoin mining in the US alone produces 40 million pounds of carbon emissions.
Many large technology companies have developed comprehensive ESG programs and pledged ambitious caron neutrality goals to address their role in sustainability. Google, Facebook, AWS, and Apple among others have moved to renewable energy sources to offset their operational electric consumption. But sustainable sources are not universally accessible and despite their expansion, are unable to keep up with global electricity demand.
An alternative solution to the energy problem lies in reducing energy use at the source. Here are some ways Inspur and the data center ecosystem at large are doing to lower power consumption.
Many enterprises are switching from air to liquid cooling, and emerging applications like artificial intelligence, edge computing, and virtual modeling are further pushing for new and more efficient liquid cooling technologies.
An extreme example is immersion cooling – submerging whole systems in liquid. It can increase power savings by 30 to 50 percent, albeit at relatively high setup and maintenance cost. But this is a viable solution for large high-performance environments with extreme compute densities like cryptocurrency farms and massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming, which are rapidly growing markets. Meanwhile, cooling technologies on the hardware level, from cold plate heat sinks to direct-to-chip cooling, are shaping the ways servers and data centers are designed, forming an innovation virtuous cycle to maximize power efficiency.
Inspur developed an evaporative cooling solution – Natural Circulation Evaporative Cooling Technology (ECT) – that utilizes a self-sustaining closed-loop system where liquid passes through the server, is heated and turns into vapor, goes through a condenser that cools the vapor back into liquid, and is returned to the server. The condenser can be simply mounted to the top of the rack without requiring further changes to the data center, offering a hassle-free solution for enterprises.
Server Hardware Configurations and Design
Servers in 2022 and beyond are becoming increasingly dense as modern-day applications require greater performance output. As a result, data centers and server manufacturers are optimizing on every level to lower power use and increase efficiency. For instance, data centers can take advantage of the fact that a 2U server can sometimes consume less power than a 1U server with the same components. Understanding workloads and configuring the data center accordingly can improve efficiency in several ways, from selecting the right power supply to using CPUs versus specialized AI accelerators.
Inspur’s energy efficient 4-socket servers are designed with the above principles in mind. They are equipped with intelligent control technology that monitors component power consumption and dynamically adjusts the server’s functions, switching component “gears” to supply the right amount of power for the workload and lower consumption where appropriate without affecting performance. The servers also utilize innovative system designs that optimize airflow and heat transmission. Operating efficiently in this manner, each unit saves nearly 1,000 kWh of electricity which in a million-unit data center translates to almost 1 billion kilowatt-hours of power savings.
OCP and Open Infrastructure
For over ten years, Open Compute Project, or OCP, has been driving open-source collaborations and innovations across the hardware and software ecosystem to bring about more efficient data centers for today’s technology needs. Through growing community engagement and widening adoption, open infrastructure standards established industry-wide best practices that have lowered the average PUE of most large data centers from 1.9 in 2011 to 1.2 today. Sustainability and efficiency have become top priorities across the technology landscape, and OCP is no longer only relevant to hyperscale data centers. In fact, it is projected that by 2025 a 33% increase in open infrastructure server deployments will be accounted for by tier-2 cloud, telecommunications, and the public sector.
As a longtime active participant of OCP, Inspur has contributed reference architectures and hardware designs to incorporate open infrastructure principles into servers for AI, cloud, storage, enterprise and edge computing. Recognizing the vast potential of efficiency-maximizing designs to address extremely power and data intensive applications, Inspur has developed an ARM-based OCP platform for cloud native workloads, an open storage platform for high-performance storage with E1.S, and an open accelerator module reference system to help reduce the design complexity of AI accelerator systems.
In the race against runaway power consumption, energy costs and ecological impacts, every little bit counts and no solution can be left on the table, from the smallest scale of chips and components to entire data centers. Some measures are radical – Microsoft put a whole data center in the ocean – while others are incremental changes cumulated over time. With continuous innovation across the whole sector, the tech industry is in the position to do significant good for sustainability.