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Microsoft Wants To Nix Data Center Backup Generators

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the more-and-bigger-flywheels dept.

Microsoft 141

1sockchuck writes "Data centers operators often tout their diesel backup generators as a symbol of their reliability. So why does Microsoft want to get rid of them? Microsoft says diesel generators are 'inefficient and costly' and is looking at alternatives to supply emergency backup power for its server farms, including fuel cells powered by natural gas. One possible option is the 'Bloom box,' which both Apple and eBay are using in their data centers (albeit with biogas as the primary fuel). Bloom is positioning its fuel cells as a way to forego expensive UPS units and generators, using the Bloom box for primary power and the utility grid for backup. It's a pitch that benefits from the current low price of natural gas." (Microsoft would like to stop using so much water, too.)

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Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (5, Funny)

poetmatt (793785) | about 2 years ago | (#41366741)

Amazing! we replaced our backup generators....with backup generators! Good thing we don't need those heavily invested generators anymore, we'll just buy more!

Now we don't need generators! /facepalm

Re:Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41366769)

No, what they mean is the backup generators are your main source of power, and the utility power is you backup.

Re:Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41366803)

The summary title is kind of misleading. As the body makes clear what they're actually doing is replacing their diesel generators with natural gas ones.

Re:Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (1)

poetmatt (793785) | about 2 years ago | (#41367411)

Exactly. That's why I wanted to highlight this - the title was misleading/poor.

Re:Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41366971)

It's a perfectly good idea. Fuel cells are more efficient, less polluting. The only thing that's stupid is the usual sloppy Slashdot headline.

Re:Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (3, Insightful)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#41367257)

Fuel cells may be more efficient, but the diesel generators are already in place.

Existing Diesel engines can be set up dual-fuel too, where they may start using the diesel, but can switch to natural gas. That allows either municipal natural gas service lines to supply power, or tank, which can be fixed in place or installed on a truck to supply fuel. Some generators are probably built to start up and run on either fuel as well.

That would allow at least two kinds of fuel to power the generator, with multiple delivery methods.

Re:Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41368613)

So fine, fuel cells are a bad idea. The headline is still stupid, as is TPPs attempts at making fun of MS for something they didn't actually say.

Re:Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (1)

kasperd (592156) | about 2 years ago | (#41368741)

If you want to reduce pollution, focus on your primary energy source, not the backup. A data center probably uses 100 times more energy from the primary source than from the backup.

Re:Microsoft: hey guys check it out! (1)

Silentknyght (1042778) | about 2 years ago | (#41369717)

If you want to reduce pollution, focus on your primary energy source, not the backup. A data center probably uses 100 times more energy from the primary source than from the backup.

Difference is, from an environmental permitting perspective, the data center isn't responsible for the power plant, but IS responsible for their own generators. And permitting even small units are becoming somewhat of a hassle in the states. When they do run, they can really belch out nitrogen oxides in surprising quantities; despite the "emergency" nature, some environmental regulatory agencies will look at these engines as "operating all the time" units, and will regulate them accordingly strictly.

Sometimes, they'll even make you build on to the short, stub stack on the top of most of these generators, increasing the height to exceed any nearby building height. This added stack is surprisingly costly, and may mean you're relocating the generator onsite (i.e., to anchor it to a building wall, as opposed to trying for a freestanding, 50' stack 8" in diameter).

Given these hassles, I can see these farms moving away from emergency engines.

tits (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41366759)

Bunch of goddamned niggers, breathing in the white man's air.

Re:tits (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41368319)

Kill yourself, that solves the problem.

Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1, Insightful)

DickBreath (207180) | about 2 years ago | (#41366787)

Just google for Microsoft Danger Sidekick [techcrunch.com] .

T-Mobile Sidekick Disaster: Danger's Servers Crashed, And They Don't Have A Backup

Wow. T-Mobile and Danger, the Microsoft-owned subsidiary that makes the Sidekick, has just announced that they’ve likely lost all user data that was being stored on Microsoft’s servers due to a server failure. That means that any contacts, photos, calendars, or to-do lists that haven’t been locally backed up are gone. Apparently if you don’t turn off your Sidekick and make sure its battery doesn’t run out you can salvage what’s currently stored on the device, otherwise you’re out of luck: Microsoft/Danger is describing the likelihood of recovering the data from their servers as “extremely low”.

T-Mobile Sidekick users have been suffering from a major outage all week, and that issue apparently hasn’t been resolved either.

That said, in all seriousness. If they replace backup generators with some alternate technology. I hope that they actually make sure it is reliable first. And that it stays reliable over time. (eg, three years later, you suddenly need it, does it still work?)

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1)

Jeng (926980) | about 2 years ago | (#41367137)

If they replace backup generators with some alternate technology. I hope that they actually make sure it is reliable first. And that it stays reliable over time. (eg, three years later, you suddenly need it, does it still work?)

If the alternate energy source is renewable and reliable it should probably be the main source of energy rather than just for back-up purposes.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 2 years ago | (#41368663)

If on-site power generation becomes commonplace and more large customers do it, is there a possibility that the power company will oversell their capacity enough that a large natural gas outage will also take down the power grid?

If there are are 5 datacenters in a particular area and each has the capacity to draw 20MW of power, but usually generate their power via natural gas, can each facility be assured that the power grid in that area can supply 100MW of power to keep all 5 datacenters running when a major natural gas pipeline shuts down natural gas service in the area? Or will the power company only provide 80MW of transmission lines in the belief that not all of the datacenters will failover to electricity at the same time?

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (4, Informative)

Urza9814 (883915) | about 2 years ago | (#41367231)

If they replace backup generators with some alternate technology. I hope that they actually make sure it is reliable first. And that it stays reliable over time. (eg, three years later, you suddenly need it, does it still work?)

They're not just replacing it though; they're flipping it. The primary power source will be on-site generation, with the backup being the grid. So reliability becomes less of a concern -- the onsite system is running constantly, meaning any faults will be found pretty quickly and it'll drop to grid power while you troubleshoot those. Meanwhile, the only maintenance they need to worry about on the backup system is a couple wires and the actual switching system. It's not like a diesel backup system where you have to run it every couple months anyway.

This seems like it would be a lot more reliable than the usual system, even if their new natural gas generators aren't. Because you'll never have a situation where you go to switch to backup only to discover some part on the generator broke while it was sitting idle.

Of course, they're going to end up spending more money on manpower to keep their local generation systems maintained, since they'll be running all the time -- which makes me wonder if that's what would really be driving any improved reliability.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (2)

flygeek (460427) | about 2 years ago | (#41367353)

That'll be really great until the grid goes down and takes the natural gas pumping stations down with it.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | about 2 years ago | (#41367483)

Yea; I'd hope they have some natural gas storage built into this system as well, but who knows. I mean, this is Microsoft we're talking about.... :)

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (2)

Bengie (1121981) | about 2 years ago | (#41367641)

Around here, there are HUGE liquid storage natural gas tanks that hold weeks to months of fuel. The distribution system just works based on the naturally high pressure of the gas, no pumping involved. Natural gas still works, even with weeks of power outages.

Gas stoves are nice for winter power outages.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1)

CowTipperGore (1081903) | about 2 years ago | (#41368155)

Around here, there are HUGE liquid storage natural gas tanks that hold weeks to months of fuel. The distribution system just works based on the naturally high pressure of the gas, no pumping involved. Natural gas still works, even with weeks of power outages.

Yes and no. Natural gas lines rely on compressor stations to maintain the pressure. Some of these actually run on natural gas themselves but others are powered by alternate fuels. Also, depending on the condition of the line and weather during a power outage, a freeze-off due to accumulated water is a real possibility. But, your core point is correct - natural gas service is mostly dependable regardless of grid power and a good backup option.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1)

xaxa (988988) | about 2 years ago | (#41367769)

I think that would be very unlikely.

I grew up in a rural-ish bit of England, and there were occasional power cuts -- perhaps every 6 months or so. The natural gas never failed -- the electronic ignition for the gas cooker wouldn't work, but it could easily be lit with a match. A bland roast dinner can still be made in the dark.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#41368173)

Who only tests their generator "every couple months"? Ours exercise weekly and have quarterly PM's from Caterpillar (none of our datacenter generators are Cat's but they were already doing the work for the building generators and it's not like their diesel mechanics know any less than anyone elses).

How Many Times (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41368245)

How many times does it have to be demonstrated that central utility generation is cheaper, more reliable and often less polluting than on site or self generation.

This whole article just seems like a Bloom Slashvertisement. 'Replace your expensive UPS and generators with OUR expensive generators'.

Re:How Many Times (1)

paulej72 (1177113) | about 2 years ago | (#41368485)

If you are only generating electricity central systems are more efficient, but if you use co-generation and use the waste heat for other uses such as cooling, you end up being more efficient overall.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1)

Lennie (16154) | about 2 years ago | (#41368841)

My guess is the 'TCO' is less ?

Maybe the local generation is slightly more expensive than the grid. So you run that most of the time, but you don't to pay for a backup system which is sitting idle. The grid is the backup system.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (2)

plover (150551) | about 2 years ago | (#41367595)

To be fair, they've improved data storage reliability as a result of incidents like these. Now, when you provision a storage account under Azure, there's a check box (checked by default) that turns on "global backup". When on, any data written to storage is fanned out across two geographically diverse data centers.

Say what you will about their technical mistakes, Microsoft does learn from them. As far as their decisions when it comes to product development and marketing, though, they don't appear to have learned a damn thing in the last decade.

Re:Why have backup generators? Or backups? (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 2 years ago | (#41369969)

Of course it's reliable - it's time tested technology as used on Apollo 13 :)
On a more serious note, generators require a lot of care and feeding while an elaborate battery requires less once you consider a long timeframe. If you don't have an experienced diesel plant mechanic onsite there's not much point having diesel generators

Mr. Fusion (3, Funny)

mbaGeek (1219224) | about 2 years ago | (#41366825)

... but I'm not sure if that is a continuous 1.21 gigawatts [wikia.com]

Have a peak power plant next door? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41366833)

It seems logical to me, to have a natural gas backup turbine do double duty during high electricity consumption times.

Re:Have a peak power plant next door? (1)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#41366981)

It seems logical to me, to have a natural gas backup turbine do double duty during high electricity consumption times.

I don't know, a data center's power consumption will fluctuate some with lulls and peaks in traffic, but since the bulk of business usage is during the late morning and early afternoon, and the bulk of residential usage is from mid-afternoon to evening, I'd think that using something like solar to supplement the grid would make more sense. That wouldn't put as much wear and tear on your emergency generators as they'd be running much less often, and if proper maintenance protocols are followed then the generators should be available when needed.

Re:Have a peak power plant next door? (1)

plover (150551) | about 2 years ago | (#41367653)

They do. Some data center operators get a deal on their electricity if they run their backup generators during peaks, reducing the load on the grid. As a bonus, it's a cheap readiness test of their backup power systems.

Re:Have a peak power plant next door? (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 2 years ago | (#41368369)

Buy your own compact Capstone turbines and do it with low footprint, simple systems.

(I don't work for them, but lusted to used one in a hybrid AFV project.)

Low price? (1)

martin (1336) | about 2 years ago | (#41366835)

Not here in the uk, and of course this price is very volatile anyway , more so then diesel with massive swings year on year.

Re:Low price? (0)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#41366903)

Not here in the uk, and of course this price is very volatile anyway , more so then diesel with massive swings year on year.

With the north sea fields, you used to be an exporter, but they peaked and declined a couple years ago so you're an importer. Its only going to get more costly in the future, plus or minus economic decline. Not sure how europe is going to be heated in the near future. Russian gas helps, when they want...

Re:Low price? (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#41366955)

With the north sea fields, you used to be an exporter, but they peaked and declined a couple years ago so you're an importer. Its only going to get more costly in the future, plus or minus economic decline.

Only so long as the Greenies In Government prevent them from using the massive amounts of shale gas that's just waiting to be tapped.

Re:Low price? (1)

plover (150551) | about 2 years ago | (#41367675)

Only so long as the Greenies In Government prevent them from using the massive amounts of shale gas that's just waiting to be tapped.

Ahhh, Greenies. Frack 'em.

Re:Low price? (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about 2 years ago | (#41367409)

You can buy diesel in the UK for stationary engine use without paying tax ("red" diesel) or if you buy enough of it to make it worth jumping through the hoops form-filling you can get the Vehicle Fuel Duty and VAT paid at the pumps refunded as it's not being used in a road vehicle.

Friends who own a coastal barge/houseboat buy red diesel from the local marina; I bought them a hundred gallons for their honeymoon cruise as a wedding present.

I'm glad nobody uses /. for obvious spamvertising (0)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#41366855)

wait.

Re:I'm glad nobody uses /. for obvious spamvertisi (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41367203)

by Tastecicles (1153671)

Look who's talking about spamvertising on /.!
You, sir, are clearly a shameless shill for some tasty product.

If it ain't broke (4, Insightful)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#41366869)

There is nothing wrong with diesel emergency backup generators (keyword EMERGENCY BACKUP). They are easy to run and maintain, assuming you have a basic understanding of engines. Check the oil and fire them up every 6 months or so, plus a mechanic taking a good look once a year or so. They are large, so it easy for someone to get in there and replace parts. You can fuel them by getting diesel from any gas station in the area. And if they break, there are thousands of mechanics which can fix them, local to pretty much anywhere that has civilization.

The "Bloom Box", on the other hand, is a specialized piece of equipment which only a few people know how it actually works. It uses a niche fuel source, not going to find that at a Shell station down the road.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

one_who_uses_unix (68992) | about 2 years ago | (#41366947)

I sure hope you fire them more often than every 6 months! Weekly maintenance runs make a lot more sense. Leave an engine unused for 6 months over a long period of time and you will create more maintenance problems than you can imagine.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#41367225)

You're right, probably depends a lot on the climate as well. Weekly is best, assuming that someone in your data center knows a little bit about engines. Don't see any reason why a generator couldn't turn itself on every week and e-mail necessary information like oil pressure/content, running temperature after XXX minutes, fuel level, etc. If it hasn't been made, I will be in my garage for the next month, hoping it isn't already patented.

Re:If it ain't broke (3, Interesting)

one_who_uses_unix (68992) | about 2 years ago | (#41367247)

Our home standby generator runs itself for 20 minutes every 7 days - just a low end 15kW model. It doesn't provide any metrics via remote (that requires add-in modules from Generac).

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

CowTipperGore (1081903) | about 2 years ago | (#41368261)

Our home standby generator runs itself for 20 minutes every 7 days - just a low end 15kW model. It doesn't provide any metrics via remote (that requires add-in modules from Generac).

My in-laws just installed a 20kW Generac that likewise automatically cycles itself every week.

On a related note, I just visited an AT&T international data center a few weeks ago and their backup systems are pretty phenomenal. They opt for once a month, instead of once a week, to exercise their generators. And when they do, it is a full test with no grid power. However, they rarely have to schedule a monthly test because they usually end up dropping off the grid at least once a month at the request or recommendation of the local electric utility.

Re:If it ain't broke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41367551)

Our small data center has a couple of Kohler natural gas generators.. The control modules are configured to start up the engines every monday morning for about 15 minutes. It's a good way of finding out if you have something like a bad starter battery pretty fast.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#41368267)

Yep, the weekly maintenance cycle is how we found out the idiots hadn't specified oil or battery heaters for our backup generators, MUCH better to find out due to a weekly test than to find out when a blizzard takes out power.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#41367319)

Weekly? Seriously?

I think our protocol is monthly, though it could be quarterly, I'm not in charge of the generator. Diesel fuel is very shelf-stable, and since there's no ignition system to futz with it's just a matter of ensuring that the starter cranks and the injector pump isn't leaking.

This isn't like a car. It doesn't move around so it doesn't suffer the abuse that the road and travelling gives, nor does it have a transmission, so there's no gearbox to wear, and since it's designed to spin the prime mover at a particular RPM to keep the generator outputting a constant Hz, it's a lot simpler than a car. Just massively bigger.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#41368293)

Yep, weekly is a great schedule, and as I posted upthread we only found out that our generators weren't properly winter specced due to a weekly test, a monthly test might have missed it if it had happened on a couple of warm days during the year.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41366991)

Natural gas is a niche fool source?
I have it at my house.

If you need a portable source, anything that runs on Natural gas should be able to be run on propane as well. Most shell stations stock that.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#41367079)

Propane != Natural Gas.
You try to mix the two, and you will destroy your equipment or cause an explosion.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41367115)

I never said they were the same. I said devices can generally run on both. Generally their is some conversion kit. Like stoves come with, or that can be bought for cars.

Re:If it ain't broke (5, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 2 years ago | (#41367277)

Propane != Natural Gas.
You try to mix the two, and you will destroy your equipment or cause an explosion.

Thanks for clarifying that, Hank.

Re:If it ain't broke (0)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41367357)

yep

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 2 years ago | (#41367201)

The bloom box isn't a natural gas system. It's a methane fuel cell.

Typical natural gas has loads of impurities. You'd need to do significant refining to make it suitable for fuel cell use.

Re:If it ain't broke (1, Informative)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41367001)

It uses a niche fuel source

RTFA, Hell read the fucking summary. It uses natural gas. Not exactly exotic.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

Transkaren (1925482) | about 2 years ago | (#41367085)

No, but in a worst-case-scenario - say, a nearby gas main explosion that takes out the local electricity - they will only have as much gas as they have stored, and be unable to get more easily. Contrast this with a system that, as noted, uses fuel that can be obtained at almost any gas station. Local stations are closed? Go a bit farther out.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

Cramer (69040) | about 2 years ago | (#41367707)

Guess what happens when the power goes out? Their pumps stop working, plus the electronic metering systems don't work. So, even for the few mom-and-pop places around with above ground tanks, while you could technically get fuel out of them, they wouldn't be able to meter it.

(Plus, that's road fuel -- in NC, that's a significant cost per gallon. Highway usage taxes are part of it. Fuel for generators and farm use don't pay road tax. There are dyes indicating taxes/untaxed; you better not get caught with the wrong fuel in your VW TDI.)

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41368577)

There are problems with your post, but I'm not going to bother with them — I get very tired of responding to posts that disagree with something I didn't actually say. If you read my post again (without reading into it) I was simply pointing out a factual error.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#41368365)

Sorry but Microsoft isn't running down to the corner store for fuel, heck neither is my little S&P 500 company. We have trucks deliver fuel a tanker full at a time. With all my generators going full bore I'm burning over 100 gallons an hour, hardly something you can deliver via gas can =)

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 2 years ago | (#41368537)

You do have a point, although I can foresee problems obtaining diesel fuel too. In any case, I'm not arguing the guy's general argument in favor of diesel as a tried-and-true tech. I was merely pointing out his factual error in referring to fuel cells as needing a "niche fuel source". He was clearly assuming that all fuel cells are fueled by hydrogen gas, which is not the case.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#41367121)

Then hope that you live close to one of the 519 CNG stations [energy.gov] in the country. Compare that to the amount of diesel stations in the country, BP alone has 367 diesel gas stations [mybpstation.com] in the Los Angeles area alone.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about 2 years ago | (#41367463)

I hope you are joking. Did you think a datacenter technician would take a gas cylinder, go to a CNG station, refill it and bring it back to the data center? Datacenters use enough natural gas to have a purpose build huge storage facility and sign direct contracts with the gas companies to maintain and refill the gas storage,

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

xaxa (988988) | about 2 years ago | (#41367599)

Don't you have natural gas supplied by pipe in the US? That's the normal way it's supplied in the UK, many buildings (including houses) use it for heating and cooking. Probably the majority.

It's pretty common in the rest of Europe too. Prices go up every year when Russia reduces the supply...

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#41368409)

Yep, in fact we're producing so much of it that the biggest barrier to lower prices right now is pipeline capacity. Heck right now Mexico is shipping crude to the US, using cheap natural gas to crack it, and reimporting the processed fuel because it's cheaper than using some fraction of the crude to fuel the cracking process.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

Darth_brooks (180756) | about 2 years ago | (#41368653)

We do, but it depends on the area.

For example, GP mentioned being the Los Angeles area. So Cal is very earthquake prone and, it turns out, pipelines don't react well to having the earth they're laid in shifted three or four feet in one direction so onsite facilities make a bit more sense. I live in the upper midwest in a mitten-shaped state where the trees are just the right height and the earth doesn't tend to quaketh as often, so the places I've worked were all natural gas pipeline fed.

One of our offices in Pennsylvania was strictly diesel and my understanding was that due to the hilly nature of the surrounding area, natural gas service wasn't as prevalent. Or at least, service at the CFM needed to run a good sized generator.

Re:If it ain't broke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41367013)

You are pretty much spot on other than the "every 6 months or so" part.
Needs be daily as normal or weekly at worst.

Re:If it ain't broke (1)

QuantumRiff (120817) | about 2 years ago | (#41367929)

Or, if your as big as Microsoft, you setup a RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Datacenters) and just figure that as long as a couple of DC's are up, your good to go...

Re:If it ain't broke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41370181)

M$ is going to run these continuously so they'll have the stuff supplied by pipes as well as reserve tanks if the supply from the pipes is interrupted. They're probably going to have their own technicians as well. So they'll have hired one of the few people that know how it works to fix it if it breaks.

Bloom boxes (0)

P-niiice (1703362) | about 2 years ago | (#41366871)

Bloom boxes are the soylent green of the Data Center industry. Wait til we find out how they *really* work.

Fuel cell technology makes sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41366877)

More useful for other applications but an alternative power source that I've been following for some time is http://www.bluegen.info/ The concept is great for those in colder climates and I have never been able to understand why it hasn't taken off.

Not the real prob (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#41366879)

Microsoft says diesel generators are 'inefficient and costly'

The real prob, assuming you live outside 3rd world areas, is the local electric power co is more reliable than transfer switches and generators.

Its legendary in the telco biz how many outages faulty transfer switches and generator testing "accidents" cause.

Local power causes many fewer outages, but the PR of "we're down because of no generator" "competitors have gens" means we have to lower our quality of service by installing generators, which is too bad. The customers are so dumb they'd rather have 10 hours of outage per decade due to x-fer switch issues than 1 hour of outage per decade due to power failures.

Re:Not the real prob (2)

0123456 (636235) | about 2 years ago | (#41366933)

The customers are so dumb they'd rather have 10 hours of outage per decade due to x-fer switch issues than 1 hour of outage per decade due to power failures.

Guess I must live in the third world, because we've had far more than 10 hours of power outages in the last decade. We had about eight hours a couple of months ago due to tree branches taking out power lines in a thunderstorm.

Re:Not the real prob (1, Funny)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41367127)

Why is your data center in such a location?

Around here all the power lines are underground. That is one reason to pick a civilized place to put a data center.

Re:Not the real prob (1)

0bject (758316) | about 2 years ago | (#41367921)

So there are no backhoes in your extra modern 1st world?

Re:Not the real prob (1)

CowTipperGore (1081903) | about 2 years ago | (#41368343)

Why is your data center in such a location?

Around here all the power lines are underground. That is one reason to pick a civilized place to put a data center.

Around here all the power lines are on poles except for shopping centers and new residential subdivisions. Regardless, our data center was recently out of power for several days due to a large storm that knocked out power to a few million customers on the east cost of the US. Our natural gas generator kept things running like a champ.

Re:Not the real prob (1)

Urza9814 (883915) | about 2 years ago | (#41367089)

Depends on where your data center is located. I was in Cincinnati over the summer for job training, and our hotel had over 20 total hours of blackout over three instances -- and I was only there for six weeks! Even the hotel's backup power didn't last through the one. Not even the emergency lights were lit by the time we finished trying to drink our way through the outage in the parking lot and decided to head in :)

Of course, that was the worst of the three, and we were fairly lucky there -- there were parts of Ohio that had no power for days. I believe the National Guard got called out to help after that particular storm. Our hotel happened to be the staging area for the emergency electrical workers for the tri-state area. And it was still around 12 hours before we got power restored....

So yea, there may be places where you only get 1 hour per decade of grid failure, but there are definitely areas where your _monthly_ average would be more than that.

Re:Not the real prob (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41367743)

Reread the parent post, where he said "assuming you live outside 3rd world." You said Cincinnati. He obviously wasn't talking about you!

Re:Not the real prob (1)

bloodhawk (813939) | about 2 years ago | (#41367281)

We had more than 10 hours of power outages from failure in our datacentre just last year, not decade. and we are in a major city. mains power is vulnerable to stuffups, backhoes, flooding and all manner of incidents that DO occur even in a perfectly maintained system. Incidentally of those 10 hours of power failure at least 4 hours of it were complete outages as the backup generators failed due to fault transfer switches once and then a faulty building UPS, but hey that is still way better than 10 hours.

Distributed/cloud computing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41366943)

If one has a true distributed/cloud computing infrastructure, if you can survive from a datacenter or two going down why even have backup power? Why not invest that money in other things? Maybe im missing somthing here.

Re:Distributed/cloud computing (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 2 years ago | (#41368065)

If one has a true distributed/cloud computing infrastructure, if you can survive from a datacenter or two going down why even have backup power?

I am wondering the same thing. It seems to me that this is one of those cases where legacy thinking hasn't evolved. You probably still want some UPS so that you can shutdown smoothly, but negating any sort of long term outage shouldnt be part of the modern "cloud" plan.

Why not use an e-cat? (3, Interesting)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 2 years ago | (#41366963)

I hear there's this great new energy device called an E-Cat [ecat.com] that's just coming into the market!

It was covered by Slashdot [slashdot.org] when the first demo plant went online.

It's now a year later, and the company is willing to sell units to anyone. Check here [e-catworld.com] for details! Or this great WIkipedia article [wikipedia.org] .

It sounds like a perfect high-tech replacement for old-style backup generators!

(For those of you who can only read English the way a compiler reads code: yes, I'm being sarcastic.)

Sensational Title is Sensational (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41367017)

It looks like they're simply looking for a more efficient alternative to diesel, not remove backup power from the chain entirely. Quit trolling for click-throughs; this is /., not InfoWorld.

Nixing backups isn't the smartest move (0)

phonewebcam (446772) | about 2 years ago | (#41367039)

What would this guy [youtube.com] have done without one?

Use Ballmer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41367047)

Hook Steve up to a wind-powered generator. Voila! No need for a backup generator.

Don't worry guys (1)

kiriath (2670145) | about 2 years ago | (#41367163)

When Microsoft finishes digging its' grave with W8, they'll use less backup power *and* water.

Natural Gas (1)

TheNinjaroach (878876) | about 2 years ago | (#41367233)

We have natural gas generators for our data center. I thought that natural gas was the norm for these things?

Re:Natural Gas (1)

TuringCheck (1989202) | about 2 years ago | (#41367539)

In Europe (and most of Asia) we are blackmailed by the Russians over the price of natural gas so Diesel fuel is a much safer bet.
Methane has also the disadvantage of being difficult to store as you can't liquefy it at ordinary temperatures like propane.

Re:Natural Gas (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41367643)

Depends on how you want to look at it.

Natural gas, assuming your supply is from a NG pipeline, is still likely to be flowing in the event of a blackout (the NG company themselves have generators) so it's a good option for a lot of people, but that's an external variable. You don't run the NG facilities - so there might be some balking at guaranteeing an SLA when the continuity of your backup power is out of your hands.

Diesel on the other hand puts more control and responsibility into your own hands - you know how much fuel you have and how long you can run before requiring refueling in the event of a blackout. You can get multiple refueling contracts to provide redundancy (in case one refueling company is unable to service you during an extended blackout).

MS is about to acquire Bloom Box (0)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 2 years ago | (#41367345)

You heard it here.

bjd

To the cloud! (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#41367349)

Buzzwords aside, a distributed server farm ("cloud") has redundant power supplies (in addition to redundant everything else) by simple virtue of geographic distance and replication. Maybe it is not cost-effective to have "uninterruptible" power at any single location. Just let this site go offline for a while as the others pick up the slack. You already need this redundancy to handle other failure modes anyways.

I'm curious (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 2 years ago | (#41367397)

FromTFA:"...2.46 million gallons of wastewater produced annually by the typical data center, which must be pumped offsite and treated..."

Why does cooling water used in a typical data center need to be treated?
Isn't it pretty much just flowing through stacks and carrying heat out to radiators or cooling towers? What in the process of gaining/releasing heat requires subsequent treatment?

Or is it just that the cooling systems haven't even been designed with the care needed to ensure the water flowing through them isn't tainted with lead solder, etc.?

Re:I'm curious (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | about 2 years ago | (#41367759)

Do you have a car? Do you read the manual? You have to put stuff in the cooling water to keep it from reacting with metal.

If this is really your concern, you should be MUCH more concerned about the cooling water in AUTOMOBILES, they are using FAR more water than data centers.

Re:I'm curious (1)

nschubach (922175) | about 2 years ago | (#41367955)

If I understand correctly, it's misted into the air so it could collect dust and other dirt.

Re:I'm curious (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 2 years ago | (#41368885)

Cooling water isn't 100% water. It has contaminants. It may have coolant depending on the plant. The pipes that are fed aren't free of contaminants either. Dirt, rust, debris, etc. Now a plant could use ultra-pure water but it's not worth the cost of purifying if it's used for cooling. After a while the level of contaminants may build up so that the water is less effective and there may be danger of clogs. Also the amount of coolant may need to be maintained. Thus the water is dumped/replenished.

What Microsoft could do (1, Troll)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#41367733)

If Microsoft wants to do something useful in this area, they should build an OS that can respond to a "power is failing" signal and reliably get to a safe state in a few hundred milliseconds. Then put enough capacitance in the power supply to provide a second or two of shutdown warning. With that, transient power failures are no problem, nor are short delays during transfer from line power to backup power.

Tandem had that 20 years ago.

Re:What Microsoft could do (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | about 2 years ago | (#41367821)

good luck using software to write data onto disks that have taken themselves offline

Re:What Microsoft could do (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | about 2 years ago | (#41367837)

yeah like we don't have battery powered UPS units already that do exactly the same thing

I vote for Flywheels (1)

sumdumgai (92866) | about 2 years ago | (#41367979)

Flywheels are very efficient and require no maintenance. They operate much as a battery does.

Is Natural gas more reliable than electricity? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 2 years ago | (#41368481)

Is Natural Gas more reliable than electricity? I'm assuming that they don't have huge CNG tanks to keep their generators running if there's a natural gas interruption.

I can believe that under normal circumstances the natural gas is an excellent backup to electricity since there are many failure modes that can affect one service but not the other, but in a disaster (hurricane, earthquake, flood, etc) or widespread power blackout, is natural gas going to be more reliable than electricity?

Using NG as the primary power source makes a lot of sense with current NG prices, and I'm sure they can design their systems so they can flip a switch and have utility power be primary power and NG be the backup, in case the economics go the other way.

Apple and Google say bio-gas (1)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | about 2 years ago | (#41369497)

And Bloom box would like you to believe it too.

That doesn't necessarily make it true.

Bio-gas requires a source (a trash dump effectively) and a lot of processing (drying, etc.) to be burnable in a Bloom Box. There's little evidence companies have gone through this trouble, it's more likely they are just pumping natural gas in.

Wow let's all do like Microsoft. (1)

gavron (1300111) | about 2 years ago | (#41370091)

So eBay bought five boxes ($3.5M-$M) and in 9 months saved $100K.

Perhaps if those boxes keep running without needing any maintenance or fuel
and nobody invents anything newer or more efficient in the meanwhile,
in 90 months they'll save $1M, and in 360 months they'll make up their
original investment.

Can't wait 30 years to find out.

E

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