Big Blue serves up green project

 
 

In May last year, IBM pledged to invest $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) annually across its businesses to increase the energy efficiency of its information technology operations.

 

Called Project Big Green, IBM’s initiative targets corporate data centres where energy constraints and costs can limit their ability to grow. The programme includes a new global green team of more than 850 energy-efficiency architects from across IBM.

 

Under the project, IBM will replace 3,900 smaller servers with 30 IBM System z9 mainframes running Linux and virtualisation software. The move will cut floor space needed to house the machines by 85 per cent and will conserve enough electrical power to run a small town.

IBM now has more than eight million square feet of data centre space – the size of about 139 football fields – supporting more than 350,000 users. The company hopes by building the energy-efficient data centres, it will encourage its business customers to follow suit.

 

The company said the potential energy savings should be upwards of 42 per cent which, based on the energy mix in the United States, would equate to a 7,439-tonne reduction in carbon emissions per year.

 

IBM, which stands for International Business Machines Corporation, is a multinational computer technology and consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York. It is one of the few information technology companies with a continuous history dating from the 19th century.

 

Since it is based in the US, it is not required to limit its carbon emissions, as the US is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol to limit the emission of greenhouse gasses. The protocol is a “cap and trade” system that imposes national limits on the emissions of developed countries. On average, this cap requires countries to reduce emissions 5.2 per cent below their 1990 baseline from 2008 to 2012.

 

Although these caps are national-level commitments, in practice most countries are devolving their emissions targets as per separate industries, such as individual targets for power plants or paper factories. This is the current system in the European Union.

 

Although it is not required to, IBM has voluntarily joined in the Chicago Climate Exchange, together with other famous brands such as chemical maker DuPont, and telecom and electronics company Motorola.

 

IBM, nicknamed Big Blue, has thus painted a green reputation to its shareholders and customers. A PR gimmick for some, IBM’s green initiatives could also mean more money in its coffers.

 

According to a new survey, data centre vendors must offer green options in order to keep their customers over the next few years. Six out of 10 companies with a data centre have declared a green strategy, and most believe it must be holistic, comprising the building and facilities as well as the IT equipment inside, according to the study by Digital Realty Trust.

 

A similar number of respondents to the survey said they purchase credits to make up for their carbon footprint when they cannot cut emissions. Power efficiency was seen by 70 per cent to be the most important component to going green.

 

“Companies are looking to the data centre industry for leadership and clarity on how to define, design and operate a green data centre. The industry must make this a key focus this year,” said Jim Smith, vice-president of engineering at Digital Realty Trust.

 

The survey also suggested green credentials would become more important when choosing vendors over the next two years, with seven out of 10 respondents saying it will become a key aspect in making a purchase decision.

 

Earlier this month, IBM unveiled a new supercomputer called Hydro-Cluster that uses water to cool the device and reduce overall energy consumption. With this new technology, data centres using Hydro-Cluster supercomputers can reduce their energy consumption by 40 per cent and use 80 per cent fewer air-conditioners.

The system uses water-chilled copper plates above each of its microprocessors that continuously remove heat from the electronics.

 

This is a huge jump in efficiency as it takes a lot of energy to run a corporate data centre. Estimates vary, but most sources agree the typical data centre uses anywhere between 10 and 40 watts of electricity per square foot.

 

For a large corporate data centre, that means a significant annual energy cost. With fuel prices on the rise, it is easy to figure out that an energy-efficient data centre means budget savings. But the most recent product of Big Blue, called the iDataPlex, is set to shake up the server industry.

IBM launched a server, iDataPlex, last week to address the needs of companies using Web 2.0-style computing to operate data centres containing thousands of servers.

 

IBM reports the iDataPlex eliminates the need for air-conditioners and can run at room temperature via a liquid cooling wall on the back of the system.

The new server also doubles the number of systems that can run in a single rack and uses 40 per cent less power. As consumers demand richer content and more immediate access to web-based applications, iDataPlex can allow internet, online gaming and social networking companies, as well as service providers, to scale rapidly to meet this need.

 

Industry estimates show companies that operate massive scale-out data centres spend 10 to 30 times more on energy costs per square foot than a typical office building. The energy powers both hundreds of thousands of servers and the air-conditioning needed to cool them.

The exponential growth of such data centres will continue as streaming video, online gaming and social networks spike internet traffic, requiring companies to build ever vaster pools of computers that devour energy resources to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

According to a company statement, the IBM iDataPlex system leverages IBM’s blade server heritage to build a completely new design that more than doubles the number of systems that can run in a single IBM rack.

 

The system uses 40 per cent less power while increasing the amount of computing that can be done by five times. It can also be outfitted with a liquid-cooled wall on the back of the system that enables it to run at “room temperature” hence no air-conditioning required. In addition, it uses all industry standard components as well as open source software such as Linux to help lower costs.

 

Each iDataPlex system can be made to order and arrive to the client integrated and ready to run from the factory. This unique delivery model also helps to keep the cost of iDataPlex well below that of a comparable number of “white box” systems.

 

“The system itself is quite remarkable,” Ashlee Vance of the The Register, said. “But the really awe-inspiring bit of iDataPlex comes from the fact that IBM is willing to go after this market at all and that it did so without spoiling the hardware design.”

 

IBM will deliver the iDataPlex system to clients globally. Among early clients who have adopted or are actively considering iDataPlex are Web 2.0 companies and other organisations from Germany, Japan, the UK and the US, including Yahoo! and Texas Tech University.

“Yahoo! relies on ingenuity and technology to reduce our dependence on energy. Many of our data centres utilise ‘green energy’ such as passive cooling to reduce our [environmental] impact,” said Laurie Mann, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations, Yahoo!.

 

“We continue to look for ways to maximise our resources. Yahoo! appreciates the direction IBM is moving in with iDataPlex and its commitment to drive greater power efficiency and density in the datacentre.”

 

Sam Segran, CIO, Texas Tech University, said: “The internet-style computing model iDataPlex is based on is just as attractive to the Texas Tech University High Performance Computing Center because, like Web 2.0 companies, we need to scale rapidly to support an ever-increasing demand for high performance computing. With iDataPlex, Texas Tech will be able to operate more efficiently while meeting the needs of our researchers.”

 
 
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