With great power…

Posted on December 8, 2012 in Blog \ News

I’m sure you completed the title phrase with “…comes great responsibility”.  While the phrase is a bit cliche at this point, there is quite a bit of truth there as pertains to render farms.

Electrical power is obviously important to computers.  We need it in large quantities for any datacenter, and render farms typically need more of it per square foot than the average datacenter.  The combination of higher speed CPU’s and the most space-dense deployments means we need a tremendous amount of power to run the farm.  This need becomes even more significant when you consider that computers are 100% efficient at converting electricity into heat.  With every render node being an excellent space heater, cooling becomes a major issue.

Power is certainly one aspect you can use to compare us to other render farms.  In our research, most public render farms seem to be located in the Los Angeles area or somewhere in Europe.  Let’s consider those locations for a little bit and contrast them with Pixel Plow.  First, let’s see what goes on down in L.A. as far as power goes.

Well, for starters, L.A. is typically pretty warm.  Right off the bat, it’s going to take more electrical power to cool a render farm operating in L.A. than it will a farm that runs in cooler climates.  This is even more significant when you examine the efficiencies of the mechanical cooling units on the market today.  It takes more electrical power to cool the air that is warmed by a given amount of power converted directly to heat.  In other words, if you convert 1KW of electricity into heat, it will take more than 1KW of electricity to cool the air back to its original temperature.  Efficiency losses are to blame, there.  OK, so you need a lot of power to run a render farm…we get it.  Great, but at what cost?

Let’s go see how much power costs per KWh in L.A.:


Ouch!  21¢/KWh?  That’ll hurt your wallet.  Your wallet won’t survive the second onslaught when the air conditioner kicks in.

Let’s turn our attention to Europe, now.  Seems the largest public render farm right now is in Germany, so what do the Germans pay for power?



Wow…looks like power is averaging over 30¢/KWh in Germany.  Sure is good that their climate is cooler than L.A.!  They couldn’t afford to run an air conditioner.

If a render farm service is going to be responsible to its customers, then care must be taken when farm operating location is determined.  That responsibility isn’t just to get the customer an affordable rate, it is also to ensure that the power is being derived from renewable resources.  When we researched locations in the world, it turned out that one of the best possible options was right outside our door.

Hydroelectricity is, quite possibly, the best form of renewable power on the planet today.  It is available 24x7x365, it doesn’t depend on changing weather patterns, it requires no use of fossil fuels, and it exhausts no harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.  The Columbia river  has the highest elevation drop for its length in North America.  It has a series of hydroelectric dams along its path capable of churning out enough power to run the entire NW United States.  These behemoth power plants are where we get 100% of our power.  I guess you could say our farm runs entirely on gravity.  Replenishable, renewable, exhaust and waste free…what’s not to like?

Our responsibility doesn’t end, there, however.  Our climate is somewhat unique as regards temperature as well.  For roughly 75% of the year, the outdoor air temperature is at or below the set point of our datacenter thermostats.  This means we can simply blow in outside air for next to free cooling.  The high desert air of the region we’re in make it a great candidate for evaporative cooling technology, which injects a mist of water into incoming dry air to rapidly decrease its temperature.  This cooling method is also almost free, and accounts for another 15-20% of the year.  All that’s left is 5-10% of the year when we have to run regular mechanical cooling to keep our render nodes happy.

All of this electrical power and cooling power comes at a low cost to us.  It is currently 2.1¢/KWh, and it will drop down to 1.6¢/KWh as we grow.  Since we rarely need to utilize mechanical cooling, this means almost all of our electrical power consumed will be used by the computers themselves.  Sure makes sense, doesn’t it?  There are many reasons why large businesses like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, and more have built datacenters in our region.  Power is certainly of primary concern.

These facts are just part of the reason why Pixel Plow is the price leader in the render farming industry.  They are how we have been, and continue to be, responsible for operating in the most efficient manner possible.  Our responsibility translates back into great rendering power, for you!

Render Endlessly…

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