Researchers Develop Energy Efficiency System for Datacenters

 Eduardo Tovar 

Through a research project carried out in the scope of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, a unique and unprecedented technology that improves the operational performance of large-scale datacenters, making them more energy-efficient and secure, has been developed. The new system was recently deployed in the datacenter of Portugal Telecom in Picoas, Lisbon, Portugal. In the near future, a second system will be implemented in one of the largest datacenters in Europe, which is being built in Covilhã, Portugal.

[Eduardo Tovar, the Portuguese principal investigator of the SENODs project and the coordinator of CISTER] 


The project SENODs - Sustainable Energy-Optimized Datacenters started in 2010 with the aim of contributing to address some of the critical issues associated with the growing demand for datacenters, facilities that house server infrastructures for search engines, mail servers, e-commerce, data warehousing, and other cloud computing functions from different companies. Datacenters are vital infrastructures that face enormous challenges, such as energy costs, a negative impact on the environment, cooling management, and operational complexity, among others

In order to tackle the challenges created by virtual and physical energy and by the cooling and operational needs of large scale datacenters, the researchers at INESC TEC’s Research Centre in Real-Time and Embedded Computing Systems (CISTER) started working on an integrated solution that constitutes an “advance of the state of the art and of the methodologies in this research area,” highlighted Eduardo Tovar, the project's Portuguese principal investigator and the coordinator of CISTER.

Temperature is one of the major concerns of companies that operate large-scale datacenters. Excessive cooling can result in substantial costs due to waste, while inadequate cooling can lead to hardware errors that drive the performance of a datacenter to an unacceptably low level. The way the research team at CISTER is dealing with this question is completely different from what has been done before. “Previous technology, which uses thermal cameras to send information on heat, is not the most appropriate,” Eduardo Tovar observed.

“We are developing pervasive sensor networking with high resolution that is able to obtain information on physical quantities, such as humidity, temperature, and pressure at different points in the datacenter,” explained Eduardo Tovar. With this information, it is easier to keep a datacenter operating and efficiently regulating temperature. “It is like having a computer network with thousands of small computer nodes – which is what we call an embedded network – to obtain a precise measurement of how much energy is consumed by each server,” explained Nuno Pereira, a researcher who is bridging the project with Portugal Telecom. “An integrated toolset that couples physical and cyber information will lead to significantly better thermal models,” the researcher concluded.

 Nuno Pereira
[Nuno Pereira, researcher at CISTER]


The Project has Made Important Achievements

Some researchers involved in the project received a Best Paper Award for a paper submitted on this subject to the 7th International Conference on Wireless Algorithms, Systems, and Applications (WASA 2012), which took place in August of last year in China. Entitled “Building a Microscope for the DataCenter” ( link: ), the paper, written by Nuno Pereira, Stefano Tenina (also from CISTER), and Eduardo Tovar, describes a data collection and distribution architecture that makes it possible to gather the physical parameters of a large datacenter using measurement sensors. The data obtained can present a very high temporal and spatial resolution. The paper was an important achievement for the researchers since it confirms that this technological advance is important to the scientific community.



Along with the sensor networking for monitoring the temperature of the servers in the datacenters, Eduardo Tovar’s research team is designing a smartphone interface, which will make it possible to remotely monitor the datacenters using a mobile phone or similar equipment. “The software will provide information on alarms, fires, high temperatures—in short, the thermal behavior of the datacenter,” said Eduardo Tovar. This is part of the human-computer interaction research that CISTER is conducting where the aim is to promote an open-ended dialog between the user and the computer, providing a good user experience.

The Technology will Be Installed in One of Europe’s Biggest Datacenters

PT is deeply involved in the project, playing a major role in promoting technological advances by constantly elevating the challenges. The technology is now installed in one of the company’s datacenters in Picoas, Lisbon, for testing prior to being installed in Covilhã, where PT is building one of the biggest datacenters in Europe. The Picoas datacenter has around 2000 square meters, one third of the size of the datacenter in Covilhã, and each of its 15 racks contains about 40 servers. With a total area of 75,500 square meters, the infrastructure in Covilhã is expected to save at least 15 per cent in energy consumption, reducing costs in the order of millions of euros, and avoiding thousands of tons of CO2 emissions.


On the other side of the Atlantic, a team of researchers at CMU headed by Raj Rajkumar is also contributing to this research project, as well as Vikram Gupta, a dual degree doctoral student who establishes a bridge between ISEP, Faculdade de Engenharia of the Universidade do Porto and CMU. In Portugal the team includes also João Loureiro, Ricardo Severino, Bruno Saraiva, and Filipe Pacheco from ISEP, and Luis Almeida from the Faculdade de Engenharia of the Universidade do Porto (FEUP), among others. This project is carried out in the scope of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia.  

 Senods box 


Having completed all major tasks, and with the project to be concluded in a few months, the researchers are already thinking about future projects and the possible commercialization of this technology. “There is a potential proposal for an entrepreneurship project on smart cities,” said Eduardo Tovar. The ENCOURAGE project, which aims at developing embedded intelligence and integration technologies to directly optimize energy use in buildings and enable active participation in the future environment of smart grids, could be the next step.

April 2013