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IBM flaunts green credentials

Cool, but efficiently so

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As part of its sustained PR campaign to persuade the IT industry that it is greener than David Cameron, IBM invited a bunch of tech journalists to see its new, tree-loving data centre at its London HQ this week.

A quick recap: earlier this month, IBM announced that it was going to spend a billion dollars to double its own data centre capacity, but would do so without adding to its carbon footprint. Not through offsetting, but by redesigning data centres with energy efficiency in mind.

This is important from a business perspective as well as for saving the Earth, IBM says, because so much of the money companies spend on IT goes towards powering the stuff. Breaking down the costs of running a data centre can be surprising, according to Steve Sams, IBM's guru of all things to do with data centre design.

"In many cases powering the IT only accounts for 30 per cent of the total power budget. Cooling takes a further 30 per cent, and the UPS could easily account for 20 per cent; more for older models," Sams says.

So, IBM said, it would greenify its customers. In six to eight weeks it would assess and report on the efficiency of your set up, and offer suggestions as to how to improve it.

Marvellous. The firm also announced a raft of green tools and widgets all designed to score maximum points with the environmental lobby, and the accounts department.

And today it offered a tour of its demo site, where it built and tested one of its integrated data centres, complete with tidy cabling, seriously scary aircon, and a multitude of rack mounted blades.

First, the nuts and bolts of it. This is essentially a flat pack data centre: the walls, floor, cooling systems and so on all arrive pre-fabbed and are assembled on site by IBM. Most of the kit can go up in a lift, but some still has to be hoisted around on cranes.

The idea is that a compact data centre can be built in a reasonably small space, and because of the design, be kept cool for a fraction of the cost - both financial and carbon-based - of a traditional server farm.

The whole thing is very sensibly structured, keeping the cold air sealed in where it needs to be, and pumping the hot air out quickly. Keeping cabling all out of the way is another key element of the design, so the raised floors can actually be the air flow passages they are supposed to be.

It is, according to Sams, all about hot air management.

"It is more than a shipping container with some stuff in," he quips, in response to a query about how the offering stacks up against Sun's data centre in-a-box, which Sams describes as "outrageously expensive".

All very impressive. But we did ponder the irony of hearing about all this power saving wizardry while we sat in a room (not the server room, we must add) so ferociously air conditioned, that everyone had to put their jackets on. ®

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