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IBM's Big Green No Bust of an Idea

Big Blue is going Big Green. Feel free to grimace at the new slogan IBM  is using to introduce Project Big Green, a broad initiative to offer ways to address rising energy costs hitting data centers.

In case you haven't heard, IBM is sprinkling $1 billion per year across its business lines and throwing 850 of its IT architects into the mix in a plan to build new products and services that will ease customers' energy consumption pains.

With all these news products and offerings, IBM officials hope to cut customers' energy consumption in half. That would be a big deal, considering energy costs rise 50 percent each year, IDC claims. OK, so you're still going to pay a lot for your humming datacenter and your insanely overworked server farms. But IBM is trying to soften the blow to your wallet.

A noble cause? Absolutely. Can IBM execute? When the company announces broad, sweeping initiative it tends to make good. Plus, customers have a role to play in managing their own energy costs, too.

A year ago, IBM embarked on its information on-demand strategy. A year later, it's paying off: IBM posted $18.2 billion in software revenues last year, with 14 percent overall growth in its information management software.

But this is power and cooling, something even the wisest physicists are struggling to address.

The challenge lies not just in the physics of how to make devices perform at optimum levels without cooking the computer servers; IBM has to fight the economy, too. IDC claims for every dollar spent on IT, 50 cents is spent on energy. Moreover, energy costs rise 50 percent each year.

For those reasons, I don't envy IBM for tackling that challenge. Moreover, this is the first time a single computer systems vendor has announced such a broad initiative. To date, IBM and its rivals Sun Microsystems and HP have offered server-centric point solutions.

One aspect of the Big Green program that is emblematic is its PowerExecutive energy management software. Once relegated to BladeCenter and System x machines, the software will be available for all of IBM's systems later this year.

Make no mistake; Sun's  Blackbox mobile datacenter and HP's  Dynamic Smart Cooling systems are notable offerings in datacenter energy cost management. But again, these are band-aids for the larger issue.

I'm not alone in my sentiments.

"This is the first time I've heard of any one vendor trying to get their arms around a holistic approach to this," Pund-IT analyst Charles King told me after the event yesterday.

"HP hasn't addressed this subject in depth. Sun has focused on green computing but it's been at the processor or in a limited number of servers. IBM deserves some credit for parsing out the subject and saying it's not a silver bullet issue."

But I'm not cheerleading. Personally I think IBM could cough up more. That $1 billion per year is being spread across its several business units -- systems, software and services. When you consider that, it dilutes the effectiveness.

Why not $3 billion a year? $1 billion for systems, software and services.

I asked King if I was crazy.

"I would say if they were doing a lot of new product development, probably not, but frankly a lot of the products they talked about today and services have existed piecemeal more or less," King said. "What that $1 billion should do is allow them to direct some money at areas that need improvement or enhancement."

A ha! That's the other quibble I have. With respect to products, we heard a lot of the same with the Big Green announcement. PowerExecutive, Cool Blue, Rear Door Heat eXchanger, and most of the services have been around.

But kudos to IBM for pushing Big Green to the center of the global poker table, where the stakes surrounding burned out servers and skyrocketing energy costs (did I mention energy costs are expected to increase 50 percent per year?!) are huge.

"It's one of those issues that's simply not going to go away," King noted. "It's going to be critical for some time to come."