Huawei has claimed that its modular data center product has achieved an industry record for energy efficiency.

The company's Smart Modular Data Center clocked an annual power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.111 in tests conducted by China's Cloud Computing & Big Data Research Institute, and local IT group The Green Grid China (TGGC).

Whose record?

Huawei says this is an improvement over a previous record of 1.245, recorded in November 2018. In fact, PUE figures lower than that have been reported: notably a 1.018 PUE by the EU-funded Boden Type data center in Sweden, which claims to be the world's most efficient facility.

Boden's 1.018 figure relied on Sweden's cold climate, which obviated the need for any powered chillers. It also used a novel "holistic cooling" scheme, which tailored the heat removal to individual parts of the data center precisely according to the heat generated there.

By contrast, the Huawei figure covered temperatures ranging from –5°C to 35°C, to test PUE under different climates and loads. According to Huawei, the actual figures were calculated using climate distribution coefficients for different regions, to give an annual average PUE in any given region. The results, however, were conducted onsite with the outdoor environment simulated by the Enthalpy Different Laboratory.

The PUE metric divides the total power consumption of the data center, by the IT load, giving an idea of the excess power used in other areas, mostly cooling. When PUE was first proposed, most data centers were over-cooling, and sometimes using more energy in cooling than they delivered to the racks, resulting in PUEs of 2.0 or more.

Huawei says the current average is around 1.5, so this PUE of 1.111 would result in a significant total power reduction of 25 percent.

“China has become the world's second-largest market for data centers and the fastest-growing market in the world. High power consumption will be an important factor restricting the development of data centers," said Zhang Song, Deputy Chairman of TGGC.

PUE was proposed in 2006 and was widely taken up by the industry, with measured PUEs falling rapidly as measures like free cooling were adopted. New data centers in comfortable climates now have PUEs closer to 1.0 than the average, and the PUE metric has been criticized for not addressing the more difficult task of using energy more efficiently once it reaches the IT equipment.

PUE was popularized by The Green Grid, a US-based organization that became moribund and was acquired by lobbying group the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) in 2019. Its site shows no significant activity since that date.

The Green Grid's Chinese chapter, however, split and set up its own body, TGGC, which has been working on new metrics. According to the Huawei release, the group worked with the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) to update PUE test specifications, in order to carry out this test for the Huawei product.

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