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Towards Energy Sustainability in Data Centers: Some Thoughts on Energy, Entropy, and Water
Keywords: Datacenters, Energy sustainabillity, Entropy
The evolving notion that we are in the midst of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was described by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Director of the World Economic Forum, in the following way: “The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.1” The fabric that connects billions of people (through mobile and wearable devices), things (Internet of Things) and services (Internet of Services) is composed of (1) the digital engines or factories that store and process data (Data Centers, the “cloud”) and (2) the wired and wireless network that transmits that data (the Internet). It is easy to overlook the silent third partner in this alliance of technologies which is (3) the energy infrastructure required to power both the digital engines and the network. In this talk I will discuss the thermodynamics of data centers starting with the environmentally horrifying observation that almost all of the electrical power consumed by the “electronic engines” or servers in data centers is dissipated as heat. In efforts to save energy in the cooling of data centers, the hyperscale industry has adopted the use of outside air for cooling, coupled with evaporative air conditioning using water. In this context, swapping the consumption of one resource (electrical power required for mechanical cooling) with another (water for evaporative cooling) leads to confusion because they cannot necessarily be compared using energy units or metrics. Without offering solutions, in this talk I will focus on possible ways to think about the issue using well known but non-traditional approaches that involve second law and sustainable engineering thinking.
Dr. Alfonso Ortega, Dean of the School of Engineering
University of Santa Clara
Santa Clara, California
USA


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