RealTime IT News

IBM Big on Cooling The Coolers

While all the hoopla in data center power reduction has been over low wattage CPUs and servers, IBM noted that there was another major contributor to the electric bill not being addressed: cooling systems.

The company noted a study by American Power Conversion that only 35 percent of the power in a data center goes to the IT load, i.e. all of the computers, while 33 percent went to chillers and cooling towers. Another 10 percent went to fans, and the rest went to humidifiers, lighting and miscellaneous equipment.

Analyst Charles King of Pund-IT noted that only IBM  has broad enough of a reach to really see the whole picture. "As discussions around power efficiency have expanded and gotten louder, you see vendors tending to focus on the areas they develop. So, of course, Intel and AMD talk about chip-level power efficiency," he told internetnews.com.

"Given IBM's experience in data center design and management for themselves and their clients, [the company is] taking a much more holistic approach to this," added King.

The typical strategy from OEMs has been to improve airflow, use thinner cabling or low power CPUs. Richard Lechner, vice president of IT optimization at IBM, said that's only solving a fraction of the problem. IBM went after the bigger chunk of the pie, the chillers, with what it calls a Stored Cooling Solution, or "cold batteries," which it quietly began shipping in late May.

The cold battery sits between the chillers and the data center's HVAC system. Instead of using water, which has to be cooled to near the freezing point, IBM developed a coolant that freezes at a higher temperature than water, up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Because cooling is achieved at a higher temperature, less power is consumed, Lechner explained.

"The air inside a data center doesn't need to be at 40 to 50 degrees. The Department of Energy suggesting customers are keeping their data centers cooler than they need to be. Most would do fine at 65 to 70 degrees," he said.

The cold battery is part of the cooling tower, which provides a cold source for cooling the air in the data center. The company deployed the cold battery at its Brompton, Quebec data center and saw a 45 percent in total energy consumption at the center. The battery holds power better than a traditional cooler and can be recharged during off-peak hours, said Lechner.

As a result, IBM's cold battery has been named the "best new energy product" by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Lechner did not have a specific price for the cold battery but said companies would see a return on investment within one to two years.

Lechner did not diminish the efforts of other vendors, like HP and its Dynamic Smart Cooling program designed to improve airflow by up to 40 percent.

"Every piece helps. I believe it is important to make the process more efficient. Addressing air handling units is important as well, even though it's a fraction of the problem. I think customers should look at this end to end and all aspects of it," he said.

King agreed. "When they launched the Big Green initiative, they had all the pieces, from new chips to mainframes. They're taking a long/wide view of how to achieve maximum data center energy efficiency," he said.