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IBM goes big green with Big Green

$1bn efficiency drive

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When IBM does something big, it really does something big. The greening of the data centre has been a very top-of-mind topic and we have seen many vendors bring products or announcements to bear illustrating the desire to be seen as an energy-efficient IT partner for businesses.

But with few exceptions most announcements have been around point products or specific segments of the larger datacenter energy management and efficiency equation. A notable exception was last Fall when Hewlett Packard announced its Dynamic Smart Cooling and displayed some of its initiatives that addressed that the totality of the data centre. Likewise, in these announcements we see IBM's Project Big Green as a strategic initiative that will have impact far beyond IBM and its customers, but help set the tone and overall marketplace direction with respect to data centre energy efficiency.

While there are five very logical steps articulated by Big Blue for organisations seeking enhanced data centre energy efficiency, for most the first step of Diagnosis is the most relevant. We have a positive sentiment for the IBM Data Centre Energy Efficiency Assessment, in part due to its use of a new standardised metric to gauge the overall energy efficiency.

The lack of easily understood metrics has made it difficult for organisations to discuss how efficient their data centres are at present since few organisations would have the disparate collection of specialised knowledge requisite for such an undertaking. Further, the lack of distributed and easily moveable thermal monitoring points within the data center presents a challenge in assessing the thermal dynamics and hence the degree of resource utilisation and waste taking place.

It is clear that without a thorough monitoring assessment of heat and power usage levels it would be almost impossible for any organisation to assess its efficiency and plan for improvement. At the same time, we expect that most organisations do not have the skill set or free time by which to undertake such a study, which makes the availability of outside services from trusted third parties all the more important.

As noted by Big Blue, provisioning software can reduce power consumption on servers by up to 80 per cent. Hence the value of Tivoli management software addressing power consumption through power policies and tracking energy usage combined with PowerExecutive's ability to allocate, match, and cap power and thermal limits at the system, chassis, or rack level becomes very apparent.

We believe that once organisations have a clear understanding of their power and thermal envelopes in the data centre, such software will become a no-brainier for the data centre manager. Although the reduced cost in power consumed will likely be a welcomed result, more important is the reclamation of power and cooling capacity.

As less power is drawn, more is available for future growth, and the same can be said for cooling capacity. In an era of blades and other high-density form factors, this headroom for growth is more important than ever as organisations continue to deploy these density-packed IT technologies. This is a winning scenario as operations cost can decrease in the present but CAP EX for facilities in the future can be reduced as well.

Finally, we are always intrigued by liquid cooling. At one time, this was considered the dinosaur of IT yet, like its partner the mainframe, the technology has reinvented itself to become very relevant again. Chilled doors have streamlined the implementation of liquid cooling; however, in the highest echelons of computing, namely massively scaled systems, we see the potential for chilled plumbing making a comeback. Liquids can effectively remove heat from the insides of cabinets and racks, but if the heat is simply exchanged back into the data centre air, the heat has merely been moved, not removed. By delivering this heat outside of the data centre, the potential for liquid cooling will become more evident.

Overall, the extent of this initiative is considerable, even by Big Blue standards. We are glad to see the company restate its intentions to be a primary player in energy efficiency and expect the competitive pressure in this arena to help address one of the most daunting issues facing corporate IT managers at present.

Copyright © 2007, The Sageza Group

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