HP Opens Showcase Green IT Data Center In Colorado

HP on Wednesday opened a new data center that is designed to be a research lab for environmentally sustainable practices that use energy efficiently and have as little environmental impact as possible. The 50,000-square foot facility in Fort Collins, Colo., will be unique among HP research facilities in that it will be the first built at scale, running a full complement of 2,000 to 4,000 servers versus the typical research lab that runs on just 10 to 20 servers.

March 30, 2011

3 Min Read
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HP on Wednesday opened a new data center that is designed to be a research lab for environmentally sustainable practices that use energy efficiently and have as little environmental impact as possible. The 50,000-square foot facility in Fort Collins, Colo., will be unique among HP research facilities in that it will be the first built at scale, running a full complement of 2,000 to 4,000 servers versus the typical research lab that runs on just 10 to 20 servers.

"We're creating a lab that can monitor itself, manage itself through advanced analytics and control itself ... to find out what is the most efficient way to do things," says Doug Oathout, VP of green IT at HP.

While the goal of the research is to develop a data center that is self-sustaining, the facility will not be able to generate its own power. "But that's what the research will lead to," says Oathout. The data center will still depend on power from the local electric utility but will deploy new technology to use that electricity wisely.

The facility will create what HP calls a "microgrid" for managing the electricity from the utility and a corresponding microgrid for cooling to offset the heat generated by the servers, he says. The cooling microgrid is based on a process called a water side economizer, a form of evaporate cooling. In Colorado's hot and dry summers, water sprayed into the air evaporates and cools the water inside a compressor tank. That water is then pumped into a heat exchanger that creates cool air that flows into the data center. "It doesn't need any energy to do this," Oathout said.

The data center also uses an "air side economizer," which basically pumps in cool air in the fall and cold air in the winter from outside to cool the servers. In Colorado's cold, snowy winters, 76 percent of the hot air in the data center can be cooled by fresh air, 56 percent in the fall, but only 25 percent in the summer.HP can also vary the workload of the servers, storage and other systems based on the amount of cooling it can deliver in these environmentally friendly ways. When it has adequate cooling capacity, the data center can increase workloads, then dial them down when it has reduced cooling capacity.

The Fort Collins facility, which was created by completely gutting an existing data center, is intended to consolidate computing capacity of 13 HP data centers around the world. The plant was co-designed by HP Labs, the research organization within the high-tech company.

To monitor operations of the data center, HP has deployed 8,000 electronic sensors to monitor power usage as well as heat, humidity and airflow. Using software analytics programs, the staff can determine how variations in workloads affect the cooling or energy systems, and vice versa. "The research team ... can manage the temperature, humidity and airflow, and see how the IT reacts," Oathout explains.

Lastly, the data center floor includes movable panels that can open or close as needed to improve cool air circulation, he says. HP Labs research has shown that eliminating hot spots in a data center can increase the efficiency of its power and cooling systems by 40 percent.

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