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California Data Centers Expect to Cut Energy Usage By 75 Percent

Twelve sites are being equipped with an RFID-enabled temperature-monitoring system from Federspiel Controls, following a successful pilot involving the state's Franchise Tax Board.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 10, 2010California's Department of General Services (DGS) is equipping 12 of the state's data centers with an RFID-based temperature-control system intended to reduce energy consumption. The installations follow the 2008 implementation of the same system at the state's Franchise Tax Board in Sacramento, where it has reduced the use of energy in the agency's data center from 59 kilowatts to 15. In the meantime the state continues to install the system, supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. The system, known as the Data Automation Software Hardware (DASH) is designed and installed by Federspiel Controls, and includes 900 MHz active RFID tags and readers from Dust Networks.

Data center operators have a tendency to set the cooling units' temperatures excessively low to ensure that the hottest server equipment is sufficiently cooled. This practice, however, wastes energy.

Since the tax board's RFID-based temperature-control system went live at the end of 2008, Federspiel has installed temperature sensors wired to RFID tags at four other California government sites, with eight more in the works for agencies that include California's Secretary of State, Department of Transportation and Department of Health Services. In each case, the DASH system depends on sensor modules with temperature probes wired to Dust Networks active 900 MHz RFID tags complying with a proprietary air-interface protocol. The modules attach with Velcro to racks in data centers, where the probes measure temperature and the RFID tags transmit that temperature data to a reader, with tags often acting as intermediary, receiving data from a neighboring tag and forwarding that information to adjacent tags until it reaches a reader. If one sensor tag fails, the network "heals itself" and continues to transmit around that tag. The reader, known as the wireless gateway, receives the temperature data and sends that data to the software residing on a dedicated server on the data center's back-end system via an Ethernet cable.

In addition to implementing the RFID system, the Tax Board repositioned floor tiles to improve air distribution, and mounted flexible curtains to isolate servers' hot-aisle airflow, says Jim Durborough, the Franchise Tax Board's senior information systems analyst and data center facilities manager.

For the RFID portion, Federspiel Controls installed wireless temperature sensor modules in the tax board's 10,000 square foot facility. Each module has two thermistors, one for the top of a server rack and one for the bottom. A sensor module was also installed on each of a dozen 22-ton air-handling units, which use chilled water to cool the air. In total, 23 sensor modules measuring temperatures at 46 locations are being used. In conjunction with the sensors, the center installed variable frequency drives (VFDs) for the coolers to control the fan speeds and water flow into the coolers.

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