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Sustainable IT and IT for Sustainability


Liu, Zhenhua (2014) Sustainable IT and IT for Sustainability. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/296T-HR79.


Energy and sustainability have become one of the most critical issues of our generation. While the abundant potential of renewable energy such as solar and wind provides a real opportunity for sustainability, their intermittency and uncertainty present a daunting operating challenge. This thesis aims to develop analytical models, deployable algorithms, and real systems to enable efficient integration of renewable energy into complex distributed systems with limited information.

The first thrust of the thesis is to make IT systems more sustainable by facilitating the integration of renewable energy into these systems. IT represents the fastest growing sectors in energy usage and greenhouse gas pollution. Over the last decade there are dramatic improvements in the energy efficiency of IT systems, but the efficiency improvements do not necessarily lead to reduction in energy consumption because more servers are demanded. Further, little effort has been put in making IT more sustainable, and most of the improvements are from improved "engineering" rather than improved "algorithms". In contrast, my work focuses on developing algorithms with rigorous theoretical analysis that improve the sustainability of IT. In particular, this thesis seeks to exploit the flexibilities of cloud workloads both (i) in time by scheduling delay-tolerant workloads and (ii) in space by routing requests to geographically diverse data centers. These opportunities allow data centers to adaptively respond to renewable availability, varying cooling efficiency, and fluctuating energy prices, while still meeting performance requirements. The design of the enabling algorithms is however very challenging because of limited information, non-smooth objective functions and the need for distributed control. Novel distributed algorithms are developed with theoretically provable guarantees to enable the "follow the renewables" routing. Moving from theory to practice, I helped HP design and implement industry's first Net-zero Energy Data Center.

The second thrust of this thesis is to use IT systems to improve the sustainability and efficiency of our energy infrastructure through data center demand response. The main challenges as we integrate more renewable sources to the existing power grid come from the fluctuation and unpredictability of renewable generation. Although energy storage and reserves can potentially solve the issues, they are very costly. One promising alternative is to make the cloud data centers demand responsive. The potential of such an approach is huge.

To realize this potential, we need adaptive and distributed control of cloud data centers and new electricity market designs for distributed electricity resources. My work is progressing in both directions. In particular, I have designed online algorithms with theoretically guaranteed performance for data center operators to deal with uncertainties under popular demand response programs. Based on local control rules of customers, I have further designed new pricing schemes for demand response to align the interests of customers, utility companies, and the society to improve social welfare.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:data center, sustainability, demand response, algorithm
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Computer Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Wierman, Adam C. (advisor)
  • Low, Steven H. (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Wierman, Adam C. (chair)
  • Low, Steven H.
  • Chandy, K. Mani
  • Liu, Xue
Defense Date:27 May 2014
Non-Caltech Author Email:zhenhua02 (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05312014-215801543
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8457
Deposited By: Zhenhua Liu
Deposited On:03 Jun 2014 19:05
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:05

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