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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Creating Better Data Processing

Faster and more sustainable processing

In huge warehouses, many located along the Columbia River, computers churn through terabytes of data daily for companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, using huge amounts of the relatively cheap energy from Northwest hydropower.

WSU researchers are developing wireless computer chips that may save energy and speedup data processing for these large data centers.

In 2011 data centers for Yahoo and Microsoft consumed 41.8 million watts of hydroelectric power from dams on the Columbia River, which is enough to power around 25,000 homes.

“Our long-term goal is to reduce the heat distribution and carbon footprint of major data-processing companies in order to help create a sustainable environment,” said Partha Pande, the team leader and associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).

These data centers and other enterprises that require high-performance computers run on multi-core processors, which are traditionally wired systems that require data to move around several cores.

In addition to being a slow process, moving data from core to core uses a lot of energy. While the data-processing centers in Washington largely run on hydroelectric power, the companies consume so much power that residents worry their electricity prices may increase. Additionally, many other data-processing centers depend heavily on diesel generators for power, and those emissions are damaging to the environment.

“We are developing new technology through the on-chip wireless network design to increase the speed of processors while lowering the amount of power used,” Pande said.

Since receiving his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2005, Pande has focused his research on network-on-chip technology that allows several embedded cores to exist on a single chip.

The network-on-chip architecture Pande is currently developing with Deuk Hyoun Heo and Benjamin Belzer is wireless, allowing it to quickly input and output a high bandwidth of data with less power usage. Heo and Belzer are also associate professors in EECS.

In February of 2011the team received a $645,000 research infrastructure grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a wireless network-on-chip test and measurement laboratory. In August of 2012 the team received a four-year NSF grant of $800,000 to begin developing the basic design method for the chips.

In August they also received a 3-year $375,000 grant from the Army Research Office, and in October another 3-year NSF grant for $490,000. Heo is the PI (primary investigator) of the new NSF grant since it is focused on creating wireless links and he specializes in circuits and transceivers. Pande leads the overall system architecture design in this grant too.

The team has published several research papers on their work, and hope to have a prototype developed in four to five years. Groups at the University of Louisiana and Ohio University are working on similar projects, but the WSU team is the first to demonstrate the novel architectural concept of the chip. The Georgia Institute of Technology and the Rochester Institute of Technology are also collaborators on this project.

“The implications of the technology will be felt around the world,” Pande said.