The design echoes those found in derelict Buffalo-area manufacturing facilities that were built in pre-air-conditioning days and take advantage of prevailing winds coming off Lake Erie. In these facilities, heat sources were placed in the center of the building, where they acted as a natural pump to move air up and out of cupolas and draw cooler air in from the sides. This is very similar to how Yahoo designed its state-of-the-art cloud-computing center, Noteboom says.
“If you want to build systems without chillers, a lot of the lessons can be found in the history before people had them,” said Noteboom, who described the project at Technology Review’s EmTech@MIT conference yesterday.
Even as IT usage surges, the efficiency of computer devices is getting better, with each successive generation of chips performing more operations with the same amount of energy. “We are raising performance levels with the same power footprints,” says Jon Haas, director of the Eco-Technologies Program at Intel.
Koomey adds that moving data to the Internet has helped reduce overall energy consumption. When people surf the Web–downloading pictures from sites like Facebook and videos from YouTube–they guzzle energy as datacenters serve that content. But if you isolate the act of downloading a CD’s worth of music, it turns out to be between 40 percent and 80 percent more efficient than acquiring a physical CD, if you take into account the energy inputs involved in manufacturing and transporting the CD, Koomey says.
“Moving bits is inherently environmentally superior to moving atoms,” he says. “People worry about energy use of data centers, but they forget that IT enables structural transformation throughout the economy.”