A Binghamton University-led center that brings together academic and industry experts to reduce the energy consumed by data centers recently earned a new round of support from the National Science Foundation.
The Center for Energy Smart Electronic Systems, established in 2011 with NSF funding as an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center, or I/UCRC, enters its third phase with sites at the University of Texas at Arlington as well as Villanova University in addition to Binghamton. The center’s 15 industry partners include Microsoft, Meta (Facebook), Bloomberg, Verizon, Corning, NVIDIA and Honeywell.
Bahgat Sammakia, vice president for research at Binghamton, serves as the director of the center, known as ES2. He notes that the three campuses and the companies they work with have made significant advancements in establishing methods that allow data centers to operate as dynamic, self-sensing and regulating systems that are predictable and verified in real time.
“We are doing this at every level of thermal management, from the chip to the data center, using AI and neural networks to optimize energy consumption at a multitude of scales,” Sammakia says.
There are just 83 I/UCRCs across the country. To date, NSF has provided the center with nearly $4 million in funding.
Data centers are among the most energy-intensive types of buildings and account for an estimated 2 percent of the country’s total energy use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
ES2 aims to help reduce that number — or to keep it in check — as data center usage continues to grow, in part by minimizing energy waste and recovering waste heat generated by data centers. In Phase III, ES2’s mission will expand to include edge computing, incorporation of renewable energy sources and cooling high heat-flux data centers as well as finding innovative ways to reduce the environmental impact of the data center ecosystem.
ES2’s research infrastructure across the three university sites includes:
- A one-of-a kind data center research laboratory and thermal lab at Binghamton.
- An electronics cooling lab, including a state-of-the-art immersion cooling facility, two data center lab facilities and an engineering research lab at UT-Arlington.
- An advanced liquid cooling laboratory for high-powered data center equipment and a high-performance computing laboratory at Villanova.
These facilities enable ES2 researchers to build, test and verify models and simulations at device, component and room scales.
NVIDIA, which joined ES2 in 2020, has collaborated with researchers at all three university sites. “ES2’s expansive facilities and expertise have enabled us to achieve many of our research objectives,” says Vladimir Troy, vice president of enterprise software at NVIDIA. “Several ES2 student interns proved to be such strong contributors that we hired them as employees upon completion of their Ph.D. studies.”
Dereje Agonafer, presidential distinguished professor and ES2 site director at UT-Arlington, says he’s especially pleased that founding member Meta will participate in Phase III. “Since the program started, we have been able to expand our lab facilities significantly, including new liquid and immersion cooling labs,” Agonafer says. “In addition to doctoral and master’s students, many undergraduates have taken advantage of the facilities as well in activities such as honors program and senior design projects.”
In the center’s first decade, 40 students earned doctorates while conducting research through ES2; another 65 students received master’s degrees. Most of them are now engaged in R&D activities at leading companies across the globe. With NSF support, ES2 has provided opportunities for undergraduates, teachers and other targeted groups to gain meaningful research experiences.
In addition, ES2-affiliated experts published more than 200 papers and filed 16 patents and invention disclosures during those 10 years.
That’s proof that ES2 has given faculty and student researchers opportunities to work on significant and timely research, says Al Ortega, James R. Birle Professor of Energy Technology and site director at Villanova.
“We are thrilled that the ES2 Center has helped our team become widely known experts in advanced data center cooling technologies and the fundamental science of convective cooling in single and two-phase flows,” Ortega says. “We are equally proud that the Villanova team has become the lead site in the area of sustainability by our research in energy and water usage efficiency and in waste energy recovery.”
ES2 researchers have new targets — items they see as the three major needs of modern data centers — as they look ahead to the next five years. They aim to:
- Automate operations that guarantee performance, reliability and availability with optimized energy consumption via energy-efficient improvements.
- Address the thermal challenges inherent in modern IT equipment that have increasingly large heat loads in ever smaller footprints, requiring liquid cooling in various forms, as well as data centers that rely entirely or partly on air cooling.
- Improve the sustainability of data centers through the use of renewable energy, stored energy, reduced water needs and harvesting waste heat.
Future Facilities has been a center member since 2012. Mark Seymour, chief technology officer, says ES2 research into the thermal performance of data centers continues to influence product development and the advice the company gives to customers.
“The ES2 data center has proven to be a highly valuable asset,” Seymour says. “We plan to take advantage of it on a regular basis to educate our clients and prospective clients by showcasing our products. In particular, we can highlight how the products help data center operators leverage the opportunities of energy-smart electronic systems.”