IBM spends $1bn on 'green' datacentres

IBM is investing $1bn (£500m) a year in an initiative to double energy efficiency, first in its own datacentres, then in those of its customers.


IBM is investing $1bn (£500m) a year in an initiative to double energy efficiency, first in its own datacentres, then in those of its customers.

Around half of computer hardware running costs are down to energy and that is expected to rise to around 70% by 2011 unless checked. In datacentres, the power goes to servers, network gear, spinning disk drives and operating tape automation devices. Yet more power is needed to cool this equipment and prevent it overheating. The development and use of blade servers is exacerbating the server energy consumption and cooling problem. The continuing rise in unstructured data, and of disk-based virtual tape libraries, both increase storage energy and cooling needs.

IBM has in excess of 8 million square feet of datacentre space worldwide. It both operates and builds datacentres for clients - for instance designing 20 datacentres in China alone, during 2006.

Its green make-over involves:

  • Greater use of virtual servers to make the hardware do more with no increase in energy consumption.

  • Automatically switching servers to a power-saving standby state when not in use.

  • Only switching on cooling when it's needed.

  • Using the heat from liquid-cooled kit to generate power and store it for use later.

  • Using thermal engineering and 3D modelling to optimise cooling datacentre air-flow.

IBM aims to double its datacentre computing capacity by the end of 2010 without increasing energy use. This is equivalent to saving 5 billion kilowatt-hours per year.

Forrester Research analyst Christopher Mines said this was more than just selling more efficient processing chips and servers. The technologies IBM is developing can be retro-fitted to existing datacentres so that they can do the same amount of work using less energy.

Colin Williams, Consultant, at Morse said, "Green IT is becoming a top priority for most businesses and moves by players such as IBM can only help. However, there is still a perception out there that becoming green will cost the earth and this is creating major stumbling for organisations looking to move towards the green data centre.

"This perception must be broken, organisations must realise that reducing the environmental impact of IT operations and reducing IT costs are not opposing objectives. By making better use of existing IT assets, changing the procurement model for IT and reducing power consumption organisations can make a positive impact on the environment and reduce costs."

Other green initiatives

Sun has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2012 from 2002 levels. It is also presenting its Project Blackbox, a datacentre in a shipping container, as a more energy-efficient datacentre.

HP has said it will cut its energy use 20% by 2010. It believes it can make itself more energy-efficient by consolidating its datacentres world-wide to just three in the USA. The company is working on ways to tune datacentre cooling so that only hot spots are cooled and less energy is needed to drive datacentre air-conditioning systems.

Many suppliers are joining the Green Grid consortium, which is working on standards for energy consumption by datacentre gear. Members include AMD, Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Sun and EMC/VMware.

In December, 2006, teh US Congress passed Senate Bill 3684, looking at datacentre power consumption. It authorises the Environmental Protection Agency to encourage the use of energy efficient servers and study energy usage.

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