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Improving Energy Savings Through Data Center Cooling Systems

Dr. Wangda Zuo, an assistant professor in the University of Miami (UM) College of Engineering’s Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Department, received a $522,000 research grant from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to work on creating software that models and optimizes data center cooling systems, thus improving energy savings and reducing cooling systems’ footprint on the environment. The project is titled, “Improving Data Center Energy Efficiency Through End-to-End Cooling Modeling and Optimization.”

The sole purpose of data center cooling systems is to maintain environmental conditions suitable for information technology equipment (ITE) operation. Achieving this goal requires removing the heat produced by the ITE and transferring that heat to a heat sink. Most cooling systems must operate continuously.

Data centers in the United States use about 2 percent of the electricity of the nation, half being used for cooling. A nationwide adoption of this tool will not only reduce the annual electricity usage by 21 billion kilowatt hours, but it will also move data centers a step forward into a sustainable future, saving data centers across the nation about $2.2 billion in the process.

A data center cooling system should efficiently serve its function. Data centers can be very energy intensive, and it is quite possible for a cooling system to use as much (or more) energy as the computers it cools. On the other hand, a well-designed and -operated cooling system may use only a small fraction of the energy used by ITE.

The software will be tested at a UM data center, one of two testing locations. This will allow the software to be tested in different climates, ensuring that the software works in a variety of environments.

The research will yield an open-source, free software package that will provide practical, end-to-end modeling and optimization for data center cooling. It will be the first practical tool that couples the modeling of airflow management and cooling systems to enable global data center cooling optimization.

The three-year project is a joint effort between UM, Schneider Electric, and U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A technical advisory group consisting of various stakeholders will provide critical guidance on the technology development and commercialization.

Dr. Zou will work in collaboration with Fernando James Doppelhammer, executive director of systems infrastructure in UM’s IT department; Marcelo Bezos and Jose Varona, directors of UM’s energy management systems; and Teddy L'houtellier, sustainability manager for UM.

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