Bringing the Power Plant Inside the Datacenter

| Josh Henretig

dataLast week we announced a 20-year deal to purchase wind energy in Texas as part of our commitment to powering our datacenters from cleaner energy sources. But designing datacenters that use less energy is still a top priority for Microsoft.

That’s why our Global Foundation Services team, in partnership with Microsoft Research, is exploring a proof-of-concept datacenter that would integrate fuel cells directly into the server racks of the datacenter. This effectively brings the power plant inside the datacenter and has the potential to double the efficiency of traditional datacenters.

Why reinvent the datacenter? Even when a datacenter is powered by clean sources of energy, a significant amount of that energy is lost in transmission—as much as 7 percent annually, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In addition to loss in the grid, there is significant inefficiency in the electrical distribution within a datacenter itself.

That means that a small generator housed within the IT hardware can significantly cut complexity by eliminating all the electrical distribution in the grid and the datacenter. The result is an unconventional but super-efficient approach to powering datacenters. Even better, it easily meets our business requirements for datacenters that any new design improves service availability, reduces infrastructure costs and meets our commitments to sustainability.

Bringing the power plant inside the datacenter can enable us to take datacenters off the grid, which is especially valuable in regions where access to clean energy sources might be limited. While the current approach relies on natural gas to power fuel cells, the twofold increase in efficiency makes this proof-of-concept vastly more efficient than a conventionally-powered datacenter. In addition, like our biogas-powered Data Plant in Cheyenne, Wyoming, these datacenters can be run on methane, which means this design can be mass-produced and deployed anywhere in the world with access to methane.

As innovations like fuel cell-powered datacenters move from research to deployment, we’re excited about the opportunities for efficiency, as well as the way in which renewable energy sources like solar and wind can be integrated.

You can read more about the design of this approach to datacenters on the Microsoft Data Centers Blog in this post by Sean James, senior research program manager at Microsoft’s Global Foundation Services.

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