Touring HP's New Sustainable-Energy Data-Center Research Facility

HP Tour 001 Two miles down the street from the Windows IT Pro offices in Fort Collins, Colorado, HP has opened a new, state-of-the-art research facility in which the company will advance sustainable data center technologies. Today I got the opportunity to tour the new facility with a few of my colleagues.

HP's goal with the new facility, essentially, is to "go green"—specifically, to expand its Converged Infrastructure architecture by developing technologies that eliminate IT sprawl, increase energy efficiency, and reduce power consumption. All of this is in the interest of helping clients minimize their carbon footprint and reinvest cost savings into their core business. The ultimate goal is to go off-grid by taking strategic advantage of thermal logic and local sources of energy—for example, wind in high-wind environments and the sun in high-solar locations.

HP Tour 005 The 50,000-square-foot research facility—which is about 75 percent complete—will let HP explore new strategies for reducing the environmental impact of next-generation data centers. When it's completed, the site will use technologies to help customers minimize power for the cooling of their data centers, while increasing their capacity with less equipment. Chandrakant Patel, HP senior fellow and director of the Sustainable Ecosystems initiative, stresses a holistic approach to the energy challenge—a "cradle-to-cradle," entire-lifecycle perspective toward creating data centers that reduce their consumption of available energy.

The 10-megawatt research center (which holds 10,000 servers) will focus advanced data analytics enabled through fine-grained sensor technology that supports the company’s Data Center Smart Grid initiative. HP will also study sophisticated resource management through the use of power and cooling microgrids. These consist of air- and water-side economizers that take advantage of the Rocky Mountains region's climate. And, according to HP Researcher Cullen Bash, "it's not Colorado's low temperatures that provide the greatest benefits, but actually Colorado's low humidity."

HP Tour 011 Advancements to reduce power consumption include thousands of environmental sensors for gathering data across the facility, and a water-side economizer providing evaporative cooling through cooling towers, eliminating the use of a power-intensive compressor. It has hot and cold aisles, and every aisle between rows of server racks is bounded with cool-air intakes or hot-air outlets. Air is brought into the cool aisles from underneath and exhausted from the hot aisles overhead to allow for constant air circulation through the racks. Of particular interest were the hundreds of adaptive vent tiles (AVTs) lining the floor, dynamically cooling the racks according to environmental sensors.

During the tour, we walked into a massive room housing far more power-intensive, backup chiller units, only to find them completely powered down—an energy footprint of zero.

HP Tour 015The facility will integrate HP Labs technologies that enable customers to:

  • Reduce energy costs by dynamically adjusting IT, power, and cooling resources as well as integrating supply- and demand-side management systems with existing building management systems.
  • Improve management of IT loads and shift resources to where they are needed with a Sustainable Data Center System that includes other advanced technologies such as adaptive vent tiles, fine-grain sensing, and sophisticated management software.

HP Tour 016 In addition, the facility will house the HP Labs "Sandbox," a research environment that is isolated both environmentally and electronically from the rest of the facility. The Sandbox serves as a test bed for new sustainability technology from HP Labs.

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