Why Google Needs To Peep At The World's Most Efficient Data Centre

114. That's how many HP EcoPOD server systems it would take to power all of Google.

The problem with traditional, brick-and-mortar data centres is that they require a huge up-front investment of both time and money; they're often under-utilised; and generally cost more money and energy in terms of overhead than actual computing. All horribly inefficient, even if you don't take into account that they cost more than $US15 million a year to operate on average. Modular Data centres, on the other hand, address many of these issues with increased efficiency via smaller footprints, faster deployment, better scalability (since you're only paying for the capacity you currently need, you can add and reduce capacity more easily) and lower operating costs than their brink-and-mortar brethren.

The HP Performance Optimised Data Centre 240a, more commonly known as the HP EcoPOD, is the King Kong of mobile data centres -- if they were the height of Scrappy Doo. It provides an extremely energy-efficient, high-performance server centre with a higher power density, lower operating cost, faster deployment time and a footprint one-tenth the size of the traditional data centre.

First, the EcoPOD can be up and running within 12 weeks from the time of the order -- up to 88 per cent faster than the average 24-month lead times of traditional centres. The entire system is modular -- including integrated power, cooling, security, fire suppression, management and monitoring suites -- and it all comes pre-assembled and pretested to the customer's specs directly from the factory. Much like a pre-fab home, it's built via assembly line, which decreases production time.

Built from two, 12m shipping containers, the EcoPOD measures just over 14m long, 7m wide, nearly 6.4m tall, and weighs 193,000kg. However, within this minimal space, you can cram as many as 44 industry-standard, 50-server racks -- each weighing 1588kg -- for a total of 2200 servers with more than 7000 server nodes. It can also support up to 24,000 large form factor hard drives. The EcoPOD uses dual, flywheel-based power sources -- known as the CleanSource UPS, created by Active Power in Texas and valued at nearly $US2 million -- that combine for a maximum total of 2.3MW.

They produce average rack power densities of around 44kW and as much as 69kW under the right conditions -- versus traditional centres that produce roughly 6-8kW per 42U rack. And because it's so much smaller than a traditional server farm and completely integrated within itself, it requires significantly less site prep and fewer external safety systems.

To keep all this equipment from overheating and melting itself, the EcoPOD employs an advanced cooling system -- Adaptive Cooling -- that automatically adjusts between three ventilation modes: Free air that uses ambient air pumped in from outside whenever possible, Direct Expansion (DX) assisted (part ambient air, part A/C), or Full DX, based on the server load and environmental conditions. In Direct Expansion systems, the evaporator coil sits in direct contact with the air flow and also acts as the cooling coil. With either mode, more than 3800 cubic feet of air circulate past the servers every minute.

What's more, the EcoPOD boasts an absolutely insane PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) of between 1.05 to 1.3, depending on the server load and which cooling system is active. A data center's PUE measures how much of the electricity it uses actually goes toward computing, rather than cooling or monitoring. Ideally, a center's PUE should be 1.0 -- all the energy the centre consumes goes towards the computers (PUE=total power/IT power). Normally, a Brick-and-Mortar data centre averages about 2.4 -- double that of the EcoPOD! Altogether, the EcoPOD server system costs a paltry $US500,000 a year to operate -- 31 times less than a similarly powered traditional data centre.

[HP (.pdf), HP (.pdf), Marc Hamilton, Trane, Wikipedia, The Register]

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