Goldman Sachs Eyes Servers With Batteries

Both Google and Facebook are using custom web servers with on-board batteries to capture big gains in energy efficiency in their data centers. Now Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs may be ready to join them.

Both Google and Facebook are using custom web servers with on-board batteries to capture big gains in energy efficiency in their data centers. Now Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs may be ready to join them.

Goldman Sachs vice president David Schirmacher discussed the company's operations yesterday at the DataCenterDynamics New York conference. "I think the trend you're going to see is servers with batteries," said Schirmacher. "That's one of the areas we've been focusing on. Everyone knows what Google has done with their custom servers. That's not pushing into the mainstream manufacturing market. We have some teams working on this."

Pioneered by Google
In April 2009, Google revealed its use of a custom web server that integrates a 12 volt battery (Note: Data Center Knowledge readers read all about this in February 2008). The new design shifts the uninterrible power supply (UPS) and battery backup functions from the data center into the server cabinet.

Google cited this design as a key factor in the exceptional energy efficiency data it has reported for its data centers, including Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratings between 1.1 and 1.2. Facebook recently says it is implementing a similar design using on-board batteries and expects it will reduce the energy loss during power distribution from the current 35 percent to about 15 percent.

Goldman Sachs' interest in a custom server design seen only at the two largest Internet sites reflects the growing importance of data center operations for Wall Street firms, a trend driven the huge growth in electronic trading platforms. Goldman is a huge player in the high-frequency trading market, and opened a new greenfield data center in New Jersey last year.

More Efficient Power Distribution
The use of an on-board battery on web servers allows data center operators to create a more efficient power path through the facility. In most data centers, a large centralized UPS system stands between the utility power grid and the servers. When there is a grid outage, the UPS taps a large bank of batteries (or in some cases, a flywheel) for "ride-through" power until the generator can be started. The AC power from the grid is converted into DC power to charge the batteries, and then converted back to AC for the equipment, with each conversion resulting in small power losses.

Schirmacher, who is known to many in the data center industry through his involvement in the 7x24 Exchange, said traditional designs represent an inefficient use of capital because they build the reliability into the data center, which is an expensive long-term asset. A better approach, he said, would be to distribute the reliability across servers, which are cheaper short-term assets that are regularly refreshed.

As Schirmacher noted, server vendors have not moved to adopt Google's design ideas and include an on-board battery option on standard servers.

Schirmacher spoke in an afternoon panel on industry trends. An earlier panel in which Wall Street firms discussed their data center operations was closed to media.

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