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SeDuCe or how to reduce the data center carbon footprint

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With the rise in digital technologies, and cloud computing, the amount of energy used throughout the world by data centers is rocketing. These data centers consist in fact, of hundreds or even thousands of servers - whether for large companies or for administrations such as the tax office in Bordeaux. Consequently they are more and more "energy-intensive". Their overall carbon footprint, due to between 100 and 300 watts per server, is equivalent to that of all air traffic.

Hence the need to design a new type of data center run on renewable energy, and therefore less energy-intensive. To do this, the Ecole des Mines de Nantes, along with the Université de Nantes, LINA and Inria, plan to establish a common research platform capable of powering 200 servers – a first in Europe. Baptised SeDuCe, this "seductive" project has been awarded funding of a million euros under the State-Region plan.

"We decided to combine two sources of energy : photovoltaics, which produce electricity even in cloudy conditions, and wind turbines which can run at night", explains Jean-Marc Menaud, lecturer at the Ecole des Mines de Nantes and co-fonder of EasyVirt, a company specialised in energy management in IT equipment. 

From this summer onwards, solar photovoltaic panels will be installed on the roof of the school , and a "solar tractor" will be set up on the ground. A small wind turbine, with blades 12 metres in diameter, is planned. This unity will be able to power the servers directly, EDF supplying top-up energy if required. This way the school will have its own energy production system.


Adjust the workload according to energy production


And that's not all. "Energy consumption on the web is not uniform, explains Jean-Marc Menaud. There is a daily peak towards midday, and another at around 10pm. Instead of supplying energy according to the demand, we are going to try to adapt the workload to the amount of energy available. This is a complete paradigm shift." To do this, the SeDuCe projet team intends to  make users aware, for example by having a system of off-peak periods and peak periods, with different tariffs for different days. All this should lead us towards an "eco-responsible" way of operating.

One other question remains : what to do with the energy produced by the SeDuCe platform ? One solution would be to stock it – with hydrogen for example, or with a system of conventional batteries. Another idea : use the energy available... for information technology calculations. "By anticipating the potential needs of users, it is possible to operate the computers whenever there is enough energy", points out Jean-Marc Menaud.

Several other technical problems still need to be resolved. The photovoltaic panels, for example, produce electromagnetic fields, as far as two or three metres when the energy is being converted. This does not present any danger to people, however it may disrupt readings from measuring instruments...

But the ambitions of the project go much further. "Through the SeDuCe project, we can think about setting up synergies within the school and beyond, says Jean-Marc Menaud. Thanks to this project, OrangeLabs Lannion has approached the Ecole des Mines and offered to fund a CIFRE research grant on these subjects in September 2016. There is a whole ecosystem in Nantes, working on "green IT". We will be able to work with other teams on photovoltaic electricity production, or on the types of servers used in data centers." The team at  SeDuCe is clearly full of ideas...

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