The Green Machine
IBM unveils the “most technologically advanced, energy-efficient” data center ever constructed.
By Carol Brzozowski
In the world of information
technology (IT), data centers are the backbone of infrastructure, providing
powerful servers and storage systems that run business critical technologies
such as software applications, e-mail, and Web sites for businesses and other
organizations (financial services, media, universities, government, health care,
high-tech markets, and such). Data centers accommodate a paper-to-digital shift
in the economy and, as such, are in a major growth period in response to the
increased demand for data processing and storage.
That demand is driven by an
increased use of electronic transactions in financial services, such as online
banking and electronic trading, an explosion in the use of Internet
communication and entertainment, a shift to electronic medical records for
health care, growth in global commerce, and the use of satellite navigation and
electronic shipment tracking in transportation.
It’s a powerful industry that
consumes a lot of energy as well, to sustain its operations. The EPA reports
that data centers have doubled the amount of energy used in the past five years.
According to the federal agency, data centers consumed 61 billion kWh in 2006,
representing 1.5% of total US electricity consumption at a cost of about $4.5
billion. That’s more electricity than is used by the nation’s television sets
and similar to the electricity consumption of 5.8 million average US households,
according to the EPA.
IBM owns and operates more data
center space—8 million square feet—than any other company worldwide. Cognizant
of the escalating cost of doing business globally, and an increasing emphasis on
corporate sustainability and growing environmental concerns, the company this
summer unveiled what it’s calling “The Green Machine” in Boulder, CO, billed as
the “most technologically advanced, energy-efficient” data center ever
constructed. The Boulder green data center consists of 115,000 square feet,
including 70,000 square feet of raised floor space. It is part of a
$350-million, 125,000-square-foot project that includes hardware, software,
2,000 square feet of renovated existing data center space, 8,000 square feet of
data center expansion, and a fourth utility plant.
|Photo: IBM Global Technology Services
Boulder's Green data center - which hosts many key customer accounts - utilizes IBM Research technologies to create energy efficiencies.
No sooner was the Boulder facility
open for business than IBM announced the construction of a sister green data
center in Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina, scheduled to open in
summer 2009. The $360-million, state-of-the-art data center is expected to
deliver new technologies and services to clients, allowing them to access
information and services from any device. Just as with the Boulder facility, the
RTP campus will focus on energy efficiencies. The new RTP center will be the
first in the world to be constructed using IBM’s New Enterprise Data Center
“Two years ago, if you were to
measure a data center, roughly a third of the power that comes into the data
center went to IT equipment,” says Chris Molloy, a Distinguished Engineer with
IBM in Raleigh, NC. “A third of that came to cooling equipment, and then a third
was for electrical distribution.”
Molloy says with new green
technologies, up to 75% of the power coming into the Boulder data center will go
to the IT equipment, and a reduced percentage will be used for cooling.
According to the EPA, the power and cooling infrastructure that supports IT
equipment in data centers accounts for 50% of data centers’ total consumption.
Boulder’s green data center—which
hosts many key customer accounts—utilizes IBM Research technologies to create
energy efficiencies. The total mechanical system design is 40% more efficient
than one with heat exchangers for free cooling, with an expected carbon dioxide
emissions reduction of 6,550 tons with expandable capacity to meet future
technology requirements, according to IBM.
use of Boulder’s geographic location. This enables the data center to
switch to a free-cooling mode that uses a water economizer to substantially
reduce energy consumption when outside temperature and humidity levels are
favorable. “In the Boulder facility, we expect free-cooling to be capable
roughly 50% of the year and maybe a few percentages less in the RTP data
center,” says Molloy. “Air/water side economizers are the major technologies
that cause a significant increase in power going to IT versus going to
- Deriving part of its power through
alternative energy sources. This includes more than 1 million kWh per
year of wind-powered electricity purchased by IBM, which is expected to reduce
carbon dioxide production by two million pounds annually. Xcel Energy, the power
supplier to the Boulder facility, was looking to build a wind farm and
approached IBM about purchasing some of the wind power. “IBM has a strategy for
increasing its renewable energy sources around the world as they power data
centers, which is a combination of—like in Boulder—buying direct energy, or
through energy certificates,” says Molloy. “Raleigh and Boulder have existing
facilities, and, at RTP in Raleigh, we already have a history of buying energy
balancing of cooling capacities to the actual load of air-conditioning
systems. Through variable-speed pumps and motors, this reduces energy
use and cost. Molloy explains that the technology is akin to turning a car on
during a hot summer day; the air-conditioner goes full blast, and, as it
approaches the set temperature, the fan—as well as the cooling—starts cutting
down. “That’s what this technology is all about: variable speed as it reaches
the thermostat temperature, adjusts the fan, which, therefore, adjusts the
amount of energy, as opposed to a wall unit air-conditioner in a house which is
on/off with no thermostat,” says Molloy. “The data centers of old had on/off;
over the last several years, the technology has improved with variable speed
motors and thermostats.”
- Water taps for water-cooled IT equipment
such as the IBM Power6 technology. Molloy says most data centers are
cooled with air-based cooling similar to air-conditioners that use water to
create the cool air. “But they then blow the cool air, and that’s where raised
floors in data centers came from,” he says. “What we are seeing now is a shift
back to what we had 20 years ago—actually bringing the liquid cooling closer to
the equipment either in row or within the physical piece of hardware. Even
though we still line the computer rooms with air-conditioners and blow cold air
underneath the floor using best practices such as hot and cold aisles, we also
are starting to bring some of that air-conditioning to the equipment, and we run
it using those water taps to bring water into the aisle. Some equipment will
have water connections associated with that. One of the differences between
Boulder and RTP that we learned over the last year is, instead of evenly
distributing the power to erase wear, we started looking at high-density zones,
which have different liquid cooling characteristics. We’re bringing more liquid
cooling to the higher-density zones to cool it than we would normally do with
- Energy-efficient lighting.
- High R-value insulation.
- Thirty-five new trees planted around the facility.
- The use of low-sulfur fuels to reduce emissions from backup generators.
The generators come online in under 30 seconds. IBM’s Boulder facility
systems are fully redundant and supported by 48-hour onsite fuel storage.
“Because these are highly resilient data centers, in addition to the utility
power, they have uninterruptible power supplies, or UPS, batteries that not only
smooth power that comes from the utility service, but also take in-should there
be a disruption of utility service,” says Molloy. “Those batteries last for
several minutes with sufficient time for generators to start and stabilize. The
low-sulfur fuel technology is used to run the generators, and that is more
environmentally friendly than traditional diesel fuel.”
The new data centers are part of
IBM’s Project Big Green, a $1-billion, energy efficiency initiative designed to
respond to global businesses’ escalating energy costs, environmental concerns,
and corporate sustainability requirements. According to the EPA, under current
efficiency trends, national energy consumption by servers and data centers could
nearly double again by 2011 to more than 100 billion kWh, for an annual energy
cost of $7.4 billion. The peak load on the power grid from servers and data
centers is estimated to be approximately 7 gigawatts, equivalent to the output
of about 15 baseload power plants. Under current trends, the demand would rise
to 12 gigawatts by 2011, requiring 10 additional power plants.
IBM had an eye to sustainability
in constructing Boulder’s green data center. The center was a retrofit of an
existing office building on the Boulder campus, reusing 98% of the building’s
shell and recycling 65% of the building material, such as drywall, concrete,
roofing, and flooring. Twenty-five percent of the newly purchased materials
originated from recycled construction material products. IBM is seeking
entry-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification
in one of its Boulder buildings. If accepted, it would be the first IBM data
center to receive LEED certification.
“We have enough points for gold,”
says Molloy. “The way you do that is you put enough points in so you can
guarantee a level below that. We are looking for either Silver or Gold
certification. Even though we looked at Platinum level, we were looking at
technologies that had a five-year return or less. When you look at solar panels
or some of the other promising technologies, those weren’t incorporated in the
data center since we did have some financial cutoffs on the turn.”
Clients are favoring IBM’s
approach—in the past year, 2,000 clients have asked the company for assistance
in building 40 green data centers worldwide, leading them to save up to 50% in
energy costs, according to IBM. As a result of green client engagements, IBM is
reaping financial rewards, having garnered $300 million in new revenues in the
fourth quarter of 2007.
Molloy says IBM offers consulting
and project-based services that assist clients in data center assessment,
including measuring the center on the Green Grid matrix and making tactical
recommendations for improvement to helping them build new data centers.
In North Carolina, the Durham
County Commission gave IBM a financial incentive for bringing economic
opportunity to the area. “One of the significant things in the data center is
its modularity,” says Molloy, adding that the Boulder center is 72,000 square
|Photo: IBM Global Technology Services
The data centers have UPS batteries that smooth and take in the power from the utility - should there be a disruption in service.
“We learned to start small with
the existing equipment power density, but be able to add additional power and
cooling over time as equipment gets hotter and requires more power,” he notes.
“That modularity is a key green concept that allows you to match the facilities’
requirement with the IT requirement. It provides a competitive edge for IBM,
because a lot of other companies are building big data centers and putting in
all the facilities’ equipment when they build it, which changes the financial
model. As we’re bringing more efficient facilities’ equipment in all the time,
it provides us a better financial picture.”
In North Carolina, IBM received
$750,000 in economic development incentives from Durham County. The RTP facility
will only bring 10 data center jobs to the area, but the multi-phase project is
expected to have an economic value of close to $400 million not only for
building the data center, but for the property tax associated with the equipment
put in the data center, says Molloy.
According to Molloy, lessons
learned from Boulder will be applied to RTP. He says the key lessons learned
came through the data center’s modularity—“the ability to match. As you grow the
IT, you grow the facility as well,” he says. “The second lesson has to do with
implementing liquid cooling techniques, of which there are a variety.”
The first phase of the RTP project
entails 60,000 square feet of raised floor data center space, setting the site
up for potential expansion in standard modular increments. IBM will incorporate
its High-Density Zone solution into the data center design-which supports
water-cooled equipment and energy requirements and optimizes the infrastructure
for traditional and new air-cooled equipment.
Other key design features being
built into the RTP facility:
- Reuse of 95% of the original
building’s shell, recycling 90% of the original building’s materials, and
purchasing 20% of new material from recycled products
- The installation of high-density
computing systems utilizing virtualization technology, which reduces energy
costs by running multiple software applications on the same servers. Coupled
with other energy-efficient technologies, it will give IBM clients up to three
times more computing capacity per square foot than the average data center.
- A varying cooling requirements of the IT equipment in real
time. In cold months, the data center will switch to free-cooling mode,
utilizing a water economizer to dramatically reduce energy consumption.
- A mechanical system design
slated to be 50% more efficient than the industry average, reducing carbon
dioxide emissions by 31,799 tons annually.
- Partial power to be obtained
from alternative energy sources, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by one
million pounds per year.
- The use of energy-efficient
These technologies, in conjunction
with the energy-efficient design and construction, will allow IBM to reduce its
overall carbon footprint compared to standard data centers.
For its Boulder facility, IBM
received more than $700,000 in incentives from the city of Boulder and Xcel
Energy. IBM’s initiatives in Boulder are anticipated to result in a savings of
7.25 kWh in energy each year over previous equipment use, says Tom Henley,
spokesperson for Xcel Energy.
“It helps keep energy prices down
to meet customers’ energy needs for reliable and affordable energy,” says
Henley. “When we reduce demand and energy consumption, we limit the need to
produce energy on the open market. It’s also good for customers, because it
reduces the payback for energy-saving improvements. It is our intent to increase
our customers’ likelihood of choosing high-efficiency options. Energy-efficient
equipment and energy management systems lower business energy costs and improve
Henley praised IBM’s efforts as
“good for the environment. Conservation is the easiest, most effective way to
reduce impacts of energy on the environment,” he says.
Liz Hanson, business liaison for
the city of Boulder’s economic vitality program, points out that IBM has been a
global leader in IT for many decades and has maintained a strong business
presence in Boulder since 1965. IBM received $100,000 in tax and fees rebates
from Boulder for its green data center.
“IBM has had a great positive
impact on the Boulder economy, and, by providing this incentive, it leverages
other incentive dollars—including those from the state—for the green data
center,” says Hanson. “Boulder investing in IBM helps IBM’s investment into
Boulder. The center brings in more clients, strengthens that facility as part of
IBM’s operation, and is a way to show them we value the priority they’re placing
on the facility.”
Additionally, IBM received
training incentives from Colorado. The state money is earmarked for workforce
training assistance. Molloy references a new matrix produced by the Green
Grid–Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency and a white paper industry consensus
on how to measure the efficiency of the data centers.
“You are starting to see that the
data centers being built today are twice as efficient from a power standpoint
than data centers of three to five years ago when you talk about the amount of
energy going to the actual IT equipment,” he says.
Going forward, IBM has a
multi-year plan for sustainability, says Molloy. “When you have more than eight
million square feet around the world, people wonder if that’s enough, too much,
or not enough,” he says. “We look at how the growth pattern should occur over
time, and that’s where this modularity becomes our supply-and-demand model and
becomes extremely important.
“It takes a while to build these
data centers,” he adds. “We‘re projecting out on our multi-year model based on
historical demand, coupled with where our customers are asking for data center
resources. We’re doing those projections to be able to have supply available to
meet the demand when it occurs. We’re seeing resurgence in interest in
outsourcing, because of the challenges associated with the phenomenal growth
that customers are seeing in IT, coupled with the increase in energy costs that
they would like to be given the ability to run an efficient green data center to
people who do it extremely well, and IBM is the largest service provider. People
are naturally looking to us to set the example for the industry.”
Author's bio: Carol Brzozowski writes on the topics of technology and industry.