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IBM chills sealed data center with outside air

Ambient air water tank cooling

Air-cooled water tanks

Data center operators are starting to use ambient cooling - letting outside air in when it is cool enough instead of running air conditioners - to keep the machinery in the data center from overheating. The RTP data center is a sealed box, like a traditional data center, but there's a different twist. IBM has installed three large tanks with water, which are chilled by the outside air when the weather is cool enough. Dzaluk reckons that IBM can get free cooling about 50 per cent of the time over the course of a year using the water tank scheme.

This chilled outside water is used in addition to variable speed CRAC units to provide cool air and water in the data center. For areas in the data center where thermal densities are above 150 watts per square foot, water cooling can be brought directly to the rack. In some cases, the thermal densities will be 10 to 20 times this level, according to Dzaluk.

IBM RTP Data Center

Data centers are like airports. Can you tell which one you are in?

Right now, the RTP data center has eight paying customers, not including IBM's own Web site,, which has about a third of its operations there. (IBM spreads its Web site across three data centers). IBM is also hosting its CloudBurst development and virtual PC cloud offerings there. The current non-IBM clients are all using IBM's iDataPlex hybrid x64 servers, which are a cross between rack and blade machines, but Dzaluk says that very soon IBM's customers will be installing Power7-based Power Systems machines as well as System z mainframes to support cloud projects.

About half of the data center's 1,000 racks of space in the first phase has already been booked, and Dzaluk says that eventually somewhere around 40 to 50 distinct customers will host their cloud applications in the facility.

Most of that $362m, by the way, is for the IT iron. According to Dzaluk, the physical data center itself is "not a big cost" compared to the price of the hardware and software that runs inside of the shell. It would seem that what data centers need are less expensive IT as well as better data centers. But to suggest that is, of course, heresy to IT vendors that want to preserve revenue streams and keep riding Moore's Law to boost capacity every two years or so. ®

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