60-Second Science

Energy Saving Servers

Researchers at the University of Michigan propose that the servers running our data centers be put to sleep when idle, just like our personal computers, in order to save up to 75 percent of the billions of kilowatt hours they use annually. Christie Nicholson reports.

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Most of us know we save energy when we put our idle computers to sleep. But what about the servers that run data centers?

Every cell phone call, ATM request, Web search is routed through data centers. And the energy used is predicted to exceed 100 billion kilowatt hours by 2011, with an annual cost of $7.4 billion dollars, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is nearly double the energy centers used in 2006.

Servers are really inefficient. They take in 60 percent of peak power, even when they do nothing.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, propose that servers be put to sleep when idle. They’re presenting the paper, "PowerNap: Eliminating Server Idle Powerthis week in Washington D.C.

Servers would have to sleep and wake at a millisecond rate. While the hardware for fast sleeping computers exist, servers lack a person to close the lid. So it would require a redesign of the operating system to coordinate this instantaneous waking and sleeping.

Researchers say their plan will save nearly 75 percent of the energy taken up by these machines. If true, it’s probably worth the pain of renovation.

—Christie Nicholson

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