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IBM chills sealed data center with outside air

Ambient air water tank cooling

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If you want to be a player in cloud computing, you have to build data centers. Server maker IBM probably thinks it will sell a lot more internal cloud than external cloud, but it realized that customers will want a mix of public and hosted cloud infrastructure to run their workloads. Hence, IBM has shelled out $362m to build a data center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, a facility dedicated to supporting customers who want to use Big Blue's CloudBurst cloud services.

IBM owns more than 450 data centers worldwide, and it has more than 8 million square feet of raised floor data center space under its management, according to Joe Dzaluk, vice president of infrastructure at the company's Global Technology Services division. So while this new data center in Carolina will eventually scale to over 100,000 square feet - fairly large by data center standards - it is but a drop in the Big Blue bucket.

The company started construction of the RTP data center back in August 2008 and had people moving in gear in 15 months, compared to the 18 to 24 months it usually takes, says Dzaluk. IBM took an existing facility and renovated it rather than building a new structure, keeping 95 per cent of the original building's shell and recycling 90 per cent of the stuff it ripped out.

In keeping with its green theme, 20 percent of the materials used to upgrade the facility came from recycled products. The carbon footprint associated with the construction of the data center was 50 per cent lower than it might have been had Big Blue just raised a new building from scratch, which helped it get the LEED Gold data center certification that green-washing IT vendors and companies with big data centers all chase for PR as well as economic and technical reasons.

In the first phase of the RTP data center, IBM has 60,000 square feet with raised floor and can draw on 6 megawatts of power. There is a separate 40,000 of additional space will eventually be activated as IBM adds cloud customers, and the facility can draw as much as 15 megawatts. The modular design IBM has chosen will allow it to bring new capacity online in about half the time, the company says.

It did not elaborate about how this calculation was arrived at, but clearly, it takes less time to put in a floor in a pre-made shell than it does to build an add-on to a an existing data center. Basically, IBM seems to have left 40 per cent of the data center unfinished, which obviously saves money and allows that 40 percent to be finished in pieces or all at once as conditions dictate.

The RTP data center has been equipped with 2,000 sensors for the air conditioning units to gather up data on weather conditions in the facility - temperature, pressure, humidity, and air flow - and IBM Research has come up with some software that will no doubt be productized that will be used by Big Blue to move workloads around the data center as weather conditions change to keep hot spots from developing. In total, the data center, its power distribution, and air conditioning units have over 30,000 sensors that this data center management software can make use of to move workloads around.

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