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A Smarter Algorithm Could Cut Energy Use in Data Centers by 35 Percent

• David Talbot via

New research suggests that data centers could significantly cut their electricity usage simply by storing fewer copies of files, especially videos.

For now the work is theoretical, but over the next year, researchers at Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs and MIT plan to test the idea, with an eye to eventually commercializing the technology. It could be implemented as software within existing facilities. “This approach is a very promising way to improve the efficiency of data centers,” says Emina Soljanin, a researcher at Bell Labs who participated in the work. “It is not a panacea, but it is significant, and there is no particular reason that it couldn’t be commercialized fairly quickly.”

With the new technology, any individual data center could be expected to save 35 percent in capacity and electricity costs—about $2.8 million a year or $18 million over the lifetime of the center, says Muriel Médard, a professor at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, who led the work and recently conducted the cost analysis.

So-called storage area networks within data center servers rely on a tremendous amount of redundancy to make sure that downloading videos and other content is a smooth, unbroken experience for consumers. Portions of a given video are stored on different disk drives in a data center, with each sequential piece cued up and buffered on your computer shortly before it’s needed. In addition, copies of each portion are stored on different drives, to provide a backup in case any single drive is jammed up. A single data center often serves millions of video requests at the same time.

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