Thursday, January 7, 2010

Data Centers have a appetite for energy


As Google Inc. grows, so does its appetite for energy.

The Internet giant has taken the unusual step of applying for approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to become an electricity marketer, essentially giving it the authority to buy and sell bulk power at market prices, just the way large utilities and energy traders do.

The company, which made the application last month through its Google Energy LLC subsidiary, says the change will help it better manage supplies for its own operations and give it greater access to renewable energy sources. The move offers an indication of just how much electricity large tech firms now consume in order to run their sprawling networks of servers and mainframes.

Although more than 1,500 companies currently have status as energy marketers, the vast majority are utilities or power generators. The move is unusual for a tech company, though some industrial concerns that operate stores or factories, such as fixture-maker Kohler Co., smelter Alcoa Inc. and grocer Safeway Inc, have approval from FERC.

Google's power usage is unclear; it doesn't disclose how many data centers it operates or where they are located. Last April, it said its data centers were the most efficient in the world, so far as it was able to determine, but declined to say how much power it actually uses.

Rich Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge, an online publication that tracks the data center industry, says he has identified about 24 Google data centers and calculates the company's energy consumption is roughly equivalent to two large conventional power plants.

Mr. Miller says it is common for large operations run by Internet companies to have capacity of 30 to 50 megawatts of power.

Google's largest data centers could use even more. A data center consuming 10 megawatts is about what a large retail store or a subdivision of single-family homes consumes.

Google doesn't disclose how many data centers it operates or where they are located, but Mr. Miller noted that Google is focused on improving its energy efficiency at its data centers, 24 of which have been identified globally, including seven or eight large ones in the U.S. That would make its total energy consumption roughly equivalent to two large conventional power plants.

In 2007, Google announced its intention to become "carbon neutral," meaning it would take actions to neutralize the effects of carbon dioxide produced in the course of furnishing its buildings and data centers with electricity. It installed a 1.6-megawatt solar array on its headquarters building and has been trying to obtain green power, when available.

If its FERC request is granted, "we could go directly to a renewable energy project and buy power for our operations," says Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick. The company also wants the ability to enter into contracts for carbon offsets.

Google's FERC application could also potentially allow the company to play a much larger role in energy markets, even becoming a wholesaler of electricity to other big buyers.

In its application, the company said it was reserving for itself the right to "act as a power marketer, purchasing electricity and reselling it to wholesale customers," and trading "in the bulk power markets, such as arranging...transmission and fuel supplies."

Ms. Fenwick says the company has "no plans" to sell its energy management services to others or to become a speculative energy trader, but she acknowledged the "green team" it has formed "is not sure what we're going to do."

A FERC spokeswoman says the commission's primary concern is market dominance and since Google doesn't own power plants or utilities, that's not likely to be an issue. But the commission could ask for clarity on Google's plans, since it's an unusual applicant, she added.

Google has a long history of downplaying forays into new areas, only to later surprise competitors with new products and services. When the company announced its mobile operating system, Android, in 2007, it tried to dampen speculation that it would build a Google-branded cellphone, calling the announcement "more ambitious than any single Google phone." This week it began selling a Google-branded, Android-powered phone which it designed, called Nexus One, exclusively through a new Google online phone store.

In 2008, the company made an unsuccessful bid for wireless spectrum, fueling speculation that it would start selling phone services to consumers. Google didn't elaborate on what it planned to do with the spectrum, but said it entered the auction to force the winner of the spectrum to open up it to a range of devices. Since then, the company has begun to offer different types of phone service, including Google Voice, an Internet-based call-routing service.

Google has been focusing more attention on energy markets lately. It is partnering with several utilities, including TXU Energy and Sempra Energy, to offer consumers a free energy-use monitoring tool, called Google's PowerMeter, that takes readings from digital "smart" meters and other devices to show a household's energy consumption to help consumers make choices that can save money and cut power industry emissions. That doesn't require permission from FERC.

Appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. has looked at the software since it's keen on developing tools to help consumers maximize the benefits offor "smart" appliances it intends to market. Warwick Stirling, Whirlpool's global director of energy and sustainability, said Thursday the tool is "a good first step," but isn't simple enough to satisfy the needs of the appliance industry.

Other technology companies that aren't conventional energy players, like Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp., also are studying energy markets for opportunities to make money by helping the nation improve the efficiency of the electricity business.

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Underground Secure Data Center Operations

Technology based companies are building new data centers in old mines, caves, and bunkers to host computer equipment below the Earth's surface.

Underground Secure Data Center Operations have a upward trend.

Operations launched in inactive gypsum mines, caves, old abandoned coal mines, abandoned solid limestone mines, positioned deep below the bedrock mines, abandoned hydrogen bomb nuclear bunkers, bunkers deep underground and secure from disasters, both natural and man-made.

The facility have advantages over traditional data centers, such as increased security, lower cost, scalability and ideal environmental conditions. There economic model works, despite the proliferation of data center providers, thanks largely to the natural qualities inherent in the Underground Data Centers.

With 10,000, to to over a 1,000,000 square feet available, there is lots of space to be subdivided to accommodate the growth needs of clients. In addition, the Underground Data Centers has an unlimited supply of naturally cool, 50-degree air, providing the ideal temperature and humidity for computer equipment with minimal HVAC cost.

They are the most secure data centers in the world and unparalleled in terms of square footage, scalability and environmental control.

Yet, while the physical and cost benefits of being underground make them attractive, they have to also invested heavily in high-speed connectivity and redundant power and fiber systems to ensure there operations are not just secure, but also state-of-the-art.

There initially focused on providing disaster recovery solutions, and backup co-location services.

Clients lease space for their own servers, while other provides secure facilities, power and bandwidth. They offers redundant power sources and multiple high-speed Internet connections through OC connected to SONET ring linked to outside connectivity providers through redundant fiber cables.

Underground Data Centers company augments there core services to include disaster recovery solutions, call centers, NOC, wireless connectivity and more.

Strategic partnering with international, and national information technology company, enable them to offer technology solutions ranging from system design and implementation to the sale of software and equipment.

The natural qualities of the Underground Data Centers allow them to offer the best of both worlds premier services and security at highly competitive rates.

Underground Data Centers were established starting in 1990's but really came into there own after September 11 attacks in 2001 when there founders realized the former mines, and bunker offered optimal conditions for a data center. The mines, and bunkers offered superior environmental conditions for electronic equipment, almost invulnerable security and they located near power grids.

Adam Couture, a Mass.-based analyst for Gartner Inc. said Underground Data Centers could find a niche serving businesses that want to reduce vulnerability to any future attacks. Some Underground Data Centers fact sheet said that the Underground Data Center would protect the data center from a cruise missile explosion or plane crash.

Every company after September 11 attacks in 2001 are all going back and re-evaluating their business-continuity plans, This doesn't say everybody's changing them, but everybody's going back and revisiting them in the wake of what happened and the Underground Data Center may be just that.

Comparison chart: Underground data centers

Five facilities compared
Name InfoBunker, LLC The Bunker Montgomery Westland Cavern Technologies Iron Mountain The Underground
Location Des Moines, Iowa* Dover, UK Montgomery, Tex. Lenexa, Kan. Butler County, Penn.*
In business since 2006 1999 2007 2007 Opened by National Storage in 1954. Acquired by Iron Mountain 1998.
Security /access control Biometric; keypad; pan, tilt and zoom cameras; door event and camera logging CCTV, dogs, guards, fence Gated, with access control card, biometrics and a 24x7 security guard Security guard, biometric scan, smart card access and motion detection alarms 24-hour armed guards, visitor escorts, magnetometer, x-ray scanner, closed-circuit television, badge access and other physical and electronic measures for securing the mine's perimeter and vaults
Distance underground (feet) 50 100 60 125 220
Ceiling height in data center space (feet) 16 12 to 50 10 16 to 18 15 (10 feet from raised floor to dropped ceiling)
Original use Military communications bunker Royal Air Force military bunker Private bunker designed to survive a nuclear attack. Complex built in 1982 by Louis Kung (Nephew of Madam Chang Kai Shek) as a residence and headquarters for his oil company, including a secret, 40,000 square foot nuclear fallout shelter. The office building uses bulletproof glass on the first floor and reception area and 3-inch concrete walls with fold-down steel gun ports to protect the bunker 60 feet below. Limestone mine originally developed by an asphalt company that used the materials in road pavement Limestone mine
Total data center space (square feet) 34,000 50,000 28,000 plus 90,000 of office space in a hardened, above-ground building. 40,000 60,000
Total space in facility 65,000 60,000 28,000 3 million 145 acres developed; 1,000 acres total
Data center clients include Insurance company, telephone company, teaching hospital, financial services, e-commerce, security
monitoring/surveillance, veterinary, county government
Banking, mission critical Web applications, online trading NASA/T-Systems, Aker Solutions, Continental Airlines, Houston Chronicle, Express Jet Healthcare, insurance, universities, technology, manufacturing, professional services Marriott International Inc., Iron Mountain, three U.S. government agencies
Number of hosted primary or backup data centers 2 50+ 13 26 5
Services offered Leased data center space, disaster recovery space, wholesale bandwidth Fully managed platforms, partly managed platforms, co-location Disaster recovery/business continuity, co-location and managed services Data center space leasing, design, construction and management Data center leasing, design, construction and maintenance services
Distance from nearest large city Des Moines, about 45 miles* Canterbury, 10 miles; London, 60 miles Houston, 40 miles Kansas City, 15 miles Pittsburgh, 55 miles
Location of cooling system, includng cooling towers Underground Underground Above and below ground. All cooling towers above ground in secure facility. Air cooled systems located underground. Cooling towers located outside
Chillers located above ground to take advantage of "free cooling." Pumps located underground.
Location of generators and fuel tanks Underground Above ground and below ground Two below ground, four above ground. All fuel tanks buried topside. Underground Underground
*Declined to cite exact location/disatance for security reasons.