Microsoft Wants to Power Its Data Centers With Fuel Cells

Data centers are some of the most power-hungry pieces of infrastructure that exist today, but Microsoft has plans to make them a little greener—by powering its racks with built-in fuel cells.

Microsoft has explained in a white paper that it's going to be testing racks which are powered by integrated fuel cells. That's quite a leap from the current norm, where data centers use expensive power distribution systems feeding off of the grid. The methane-powered fuel cells could, according to Microsoft, eliminate power distribution systems and even server-level power supplies. In turn, that should make them massively more efficient.

The end goal appears to be one where data servers are entirely independent of the electricity grid: heaving digital farms, that churn and spew data without the need for any external power supply whatsoever. It sounds a little bit like something out of The Matrix, but in fact it will be based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where a proof-of-concept data center—housed in a water treatment plant—will run. Sean James from Microsoft explains in a blog post:

“The main distinction between this data plant concept and previous architecture ideas is the notion of bringing the power plant inside the data center, instead of putting the data center in the power plant. A lot of energy is lost in today’s data center energy supply chain. We show how integrating a small generator with the IT hardware significantly cuts complexity by eliminating all the electrical distribution in the grid and data center.”

It's early stages for the concept, but it's certainly promising. Of course, there are plenty of technical challenges—amongst them dealing with heat, fuel distribution and safety—but it'll be interesting to see if the idea gains traction. If it does, our data centers might soon be rather more independent than we ever expected. [Microsoft via Data Center Knowledge]

Image by Microsoft