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Solar's role uncertain in the data center

By Max Burkhalter
March 23, 2012
While major data center operators, including Facebook and Apple, have begun experimenting with solar energy in their facilities, the actual role of solar energy is still in question. This also creates uncertainty around other renewable power resources in the data center sector, which is witnessing a major movement toward sustainability because of escalating energy use, Data Center Knowledge reported.

Apple's role in the solar movement is being questioned when it comes to solar use in the data center, as its recent deployment of photovoltaic solar panels has come under scrutiny by James Hamilton of Amazon Web Services. Citing a recent blog post from Hamilton, the news source explained that the expert has serious problems with the idea that solar energy is being used more to power data centers because many of the operators are only really using solar panels to meet office needs within facilities or for more of a marketing ploy.

Greenpeace shares a similar view on Apple's efforts to install solar panels at its cloud hosting data center. The report said Greenpeace had long pressured Apple because it uses coal as a primary power source for its data center operations. Even after the solar panel project was completed, the environmental advocate was not sold on Apple's efforts, as the vast majority of power requirements at the facility are still met through coal.

"Apple could apply the innovative spirit so evident in its latest iPad to its iCloud by powering it with renewable energy like wind and solar. Or, it could continue to lag behind the rest of the industry by sticking with coal, a 19th-century technology that poisons communities and the climate," Gary Cook, senior policy analyst for Greenpeace, told the news source.

The role of solar and other renewable energy resources in the data center is clearly uncertain. The core issue is that the most accessible renewable resources, such as solar and wind, do not deliver energy at a consistent enough density to meet data center requirements. However, relief is on the horizon.

Rising smart grid investments are creating an environment in which microgrids can be established based on power generation sites. When combined with advanced monitoring and communications infrastructure, these microgrids can track how much power an area needs at any time and store excess energy. When not enough power is being delivered through primary generation systems, such as solar panels or wind turbines, the grid could tap into a less energy-efficient source that is more reliable.

Perle’s wide range of 1 to 48 port Perle Console Servers provide data center managers and network administrators with secure remote management of any device with a serial console port. Plus, they are the only truly fault tolerant Console Servers on the market with the advanced security functionality needed to easily perform secure remote data center management and out-of-band management of IT assets from anywhere in the world.


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