SenseWeb: The Sensors Monitoring The Cloud…And The Planet

During the Microsoft Research keynote at PDC, a research project called SensorMap was shown off to conference attendees in a really unique way: by showing them a SensorMap of the PDC convention center itself. Unknown to the audience members, above their heads, 90 some sensors had been in placed within the convention hall and had been actively monitoring room temperatures for several days. (Larry Larsen took pictures during the installation, see some here.) The sensors had been there since the beginning of the PDC event, just for the purpose of this particular demonstration. As the presenter revealed what the SensorMap project could do, he accessed the data collected by these sensors and displayed on screen several charts showing the fluctuating room temperatures. 

Temperature Chart:

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This SensorWeb research project is something that has been underway for years. Led by Feng Zhao, the project has evolved from its mPlatform days, when he and his team were just experimenting with prototypes, to today where there are actually working models in place all over the world. 

Obviously, one of the practical uses for these temperature-monitoring gadgets is to address the energy consumption issues in data centers. By monitoring the ever-fluctuating temperatures in a busy datacenter, it’s possible to eliminate hot spots. Servers can be put to sleep in parts of the room to allow for cooling to occur when temperatures spike too high. By keeping temps stable, the cooling system doesn’t have to work so hard and that alone can dramatically reduce energy costs – by as much as 30%, says Microsoft.

Data Center Monitoring:

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Given this week’s announcement of Microsoft’s new platform for cloud computing, Windows Azure, the need for good data center technologies like this is more important than ever. To that end, Microsoft has already deployed 10,000 of these sensors to their data centers around the world…so far.

However, these devices aren’t meant for the data center alone. In addition to room temperatures, these devices can also monitor air temperatures, surface temperatures, and humidity. Researchers, such as those involved with the Swiss Experiment, for example, are already using them to study environmental trends like those that affect the Swiss Alps.

The data returned from these, and other types of sensors like those monitoring traffic conditions or soil temperatures, can then be returned and displayed on Microsoft Research’s SensorMap. This sensor/Virtual Earth mashup lets you find and view all types of sensors from around the world and display their readings in pop-up panels. You also have access to historical data, available as pop-up charts and graphs and downloadable as either text or Excel files.

SensorMap Charts:

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These web-enabled sensors and the related mapping project may not get the hype that Windows 7 and the new Microsoft Office Web Apps do, but they’re just as important in terms of technology’s impact on the world. Over time, the research collected by the sensors will not only help save money and energy as the data centers run the infrastructure behind the cloud, but may also give us real insight into numerous areas of scientific research like that of global warming and other environmental issues.

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