Big Blue gets its green on

TORONTO – IBM Canada on Thursday emphasized how deployment of green technologies, particularly in their data centre, can translate into hard dollar savings.

Outlining aspects of Big Blue’s energy efficiency initiative, an IBM exec said businesses adopting these strategies are saving as much as 40 per cent of their overall data centre energy costs.

But a pre-requisite is understanding power utilization in data centres, said Steven Sams, IBM vice-president, global site and facilities services.

He noted that IT products per se – severs, storage, telecom equipment and so on – account for just 30 per cent of a data centre’s power use. “The remaining 70 per cent of power is used by the infrastructure that supports that technology.”

For instance, he said chillers (or cooling towers) located outside of the data centre suck up as much as 33 per cent of a data centre’s energy. “They need all this power just to create the coolant utilized by the air conditioning systems on the floor of the data centre.”

Other supplemental systems that use up power include: the computer room air conditioning system, and the uninterrupted power supply equipment (UPS), he said.

“So this isn’t just about keeping the chips, servers and storage as efficient as possible. It’s about optimizing power usage around all of those other systems as well.”

Such efforts are crucial given steep and escalating data-centre energy costs, said Brian Rosenberg, IBM business unit executive, site and facilities services.

He cited a finding by analyst firm IDC that for every dollar of computer hardware roughly 50 cents is spent on energy. “This is expected to increase to 71 cents over the next four years.”

The data centre energy crisis, he said, is inhibiting the growth of many companies.

At the Toronto event Sams described new technologies and services developed by IBM to respond to this “crisis.”

This new IBM offering, he said, is aimed at reducing energy consumed by the “chillers” in a typical data centre.  

“Chillers use about a third of a data centre’s energy and run, on average, at 30 per cent efficiency.”

The problem, he said, is chillers can’t be switched off at any time as the coolant they create is required 24×7 to keep the data centres temperature’s constant.

He said Cool Battery counters this inefficiency.

Essentially, it’s a device placed between the chillers and the AC systems, and that “stores cold much like an ice-cube.

You run the chiller tower at maximum efficiency, and then “lock up” the cold in Cool Battery.

Sams said Cool Battery was installed at an IBM location for two years. “In those years we saved 45 per cent of the energy cost of our chiller plant.”

Starting Monday, Sams said the IBM site would offer visitors a free “assessment tool” to evaluate energy efficiency of their data centre.

Users respond to a set of 12 paired questions. “The tool then assesses where you are versus where you would like to be and offers simple steps for you to move forward.”

He said Big Blue customers are already experiencing significant cost savings from “energy efficiency” assessments. In a worst case scenario, customers are easily able to save about 15 per cent. Typically, they save around 40 per cent of their overall energy costs.

The IBM executive said an assessment includes four elements:

A comparison – That tells you where you stand on data centre efficiency in relation to the marketplace.

A status report – that describes the “energy efficiency” of every aspect of your data centre – such as the IT component, the chillers, the computer room AC, and the UPS. 

Solutions – Recommended actions to improve efficiencies.  

Business cases – Sams said when recommendations require a substantial capital outlay (such as replacing an older UPS set with one that’s more efficient) users are also provided with business cases that help them prioritize and make their decision.

Other services in this area include consolidation and relocation, he said. “If anyone has more than four data centres there are huge savings available, both on the energy side and on the operational side – when you start consolidating those sites.”

He said “energy efficient” initiative is being supported by all the major global providers of data centre technology – including Schneider Electric, Emerson, Liebert, General Electric, E.T.N. and Anxer.

These companies, he said, are also starting to roll out supporting solutions – including technology to improve UPS efficiency, coolant techniques and more.

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