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Big and Small Efforts Aim to Address the Data Center Energy Drain

August 17, 2016

It’s well understood that data centers are energy hogs. The good news is there has been a lot of activity – and some success – in lowering their environmental impact.

Big internet companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google have been working to decrease the energy use of their data centers in various ways.

In fact, a report released in June by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says that although data centers continue to proliferate growth in the energy to power them has remained flat. A Berkeley Lab article about the report said “electricity consumption by data centers nationwide, after rising rapidly for more than a decade, started to plateau in 2010 and has remained steady since, at just under 2 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption” and electricity consumption is expected to see low growth rates through 2020, although the total server installed base is poised to increase 40 percent between now and then.

Work to make data centers more energy efficient are happening at both the macro level and the micro level.

Some companies, such as Verne Global and Microsoft, are addressing the problem at the macro level by locating data centers in Iceland and experimenting with putting them in the ocean, to bring down their cooling costs of cooling and environmental impact.

Meanwhile, upstarts like Ayar Labs are working to introduce new technology that promises to deliver efficiencies at the chip level.

“Ayar Labs helps companies keep up with skyrocketing volumes of data by miniaturizing fiber optic transceivers and making them in silicon

                    Image via Bigstock

chips, bringing the super-high bandwidth and low energy use of fiber optics inside computers,” the San Francisco startup explains on its website.

As discussed in this December 2015 MIT Technology Review article, optical connections can carry more data faster than electrical ones consuming the same amount of power. That can save a lot of energy in data centers, where 20 to 30 percent of the energy is spent transferring data between processor, memory, and networking cards.

Ayar Labs, which recently raised $2.5 million seed funding from FF Science, part of Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and TechU Angels, expects to introduce a 400gbps transceiver for use in data centers in 2019.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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