IBM Tackles Data Center Cooling with Services Offering
Corrected: October 25, 2006
by Alex Woodie
IBM today introduced its second round of offerings in which it will try to sell people-based technical services as products. The five new service products come out of IBM Global Service's Site and Facilities Services unit, and are aimed at helping IT departments solve some of the critical heating, cooling, and power issues that threaten to knock "high density" data centers off line.
The rise of standards-based X86 and X64 computing has brought unprecedented processing power into the hands of many IT organizations. But this unparalleled accumulation of processing power has also led to an unanticipated increase in heat output per square foot, and brought heat-removal and air conditioning systems close to their breaking points.
Steve Sams, vice president of IBM Site and Facilities Services, attributes the heating problem to the exploding popularity of blades and rack-based servers. However, while blades are part of the problem, Sams says the common use of components like power supplies and fans in blade systems allow them to make better use of electricity than their horizontally stacked brethren for a given amount of performance.
"Racks and blades are wonderfully inexpensive," he says. "A fully loaded BladeCenter versus a rack can provide 25 to 40 percent more processing power, generates 25 to 40 percent less heat, and provides 50 to 60 percent more floor-space efficiency."
While server and chip makers are making steady process in cooling processors, blades, and racks, and making them more efficient on a heat-to-performance basis, the continued miniaturization of servers is overcoming whatever heat-efficiency gains they may be making. This is especially evident with blades, which are more heat dense than racks.
Basically, system designers have become victims of their own successes, and data center designs--which operate on a 15-year cycle as opposed to an average three-year cycle for servers--haven't kept up, Sams says.
"The technology customers were installing on a power and heat basis was on a predictable curve up until about three years ago," he says. "Then, as things got a lot denser a lot faster with 1U servers and blades, the data center rules that had been in place for the last 15 years were thrown out the window."
Power, heating, and cooling issues have always been integral parts of data center design. However, organizations today are not managing their power and cooling needs very well, according to Gartner, which predicts that, by 2009, 70 percent of data center facilities will fail to meet operational and capacity requirements without some level of renovation, expansion, or relocation.
Of course, if you were Google or Microsoft, you'd be tackling the issue head-on by building your new data centers--and even bigger air conditioning systems--on the banks of the Columbia River, where there is an abundant supply of cheap electricity generated via a network of dams and hydro-electric facilities.
But not every company has the means to locate its data center on the Oregon-Washington border. The vast majority of companies are forced to make do with local electrical grids, which are becoming increasingly constrained, and market prices, which are going up. In fact, electricity costs for system power and cooling now accounts for one-third of many organizations' total IT budget, according to IBM. By 2007, spending on power and cooling will exceed the cost of computer hardware itself, IDC predicts.
This is good news for IBM, which has been designing the world's largest data centers and solving its customers' heating and cooling issues for decades. Now, IBM is seeking to consolidate all the lessons it's learned into bite-sized technical services "products" that are being offered through a newly created Global Services business unit called Site and Facilities Services. This is the second round of technical service product offerings introduced by IBM, which officially launched the first two service offerings two weeks ago.
Today, IBM introduced the first five technical service offerings through Site and Facilities Services. The first on the list is the High Density Computing Readiness Assessment, which is designed to help businesses gauge their ability to support high density computing, identify the potential gaps that could jeopardize continuous operations, and develop a plan to resolve identified problems, according to IBM. This in-house assessment runs about $20,000, Sams says.
Next up is the Scalable Modular Data Center for Small Businesses offering, which is a joint product that IBM developed with heating and cooling product manufacturer APC. This offering takes a "modular building block" approach to implementing a "turnkey" data center in practically any environment, including all power, cooling, security, and monitoring. This product is currently being piloted in IBM's Americas geography, with worldwide availability slated for early next year.
Companies interested in expanding their existing data centers to accommodate more blades and racks may be interested in the Thermal Analysis for High Density Computing offering. With this offering, IBM facilities experts will look for existing and potential heat-related issues that could create outages in existing data centers, as well as provide options for power savings and future expansion, according to IBM.
IBM is also working on its Integrated Rack Solution for High Density Computing offering, which is designed to help customers with the design, deployment, and management of "resilient and flexible" racking technologies. IBM is currently piloting this offering, which uses in-house IBM technology, in its EMEA geography, and worldwide availability is expected by early 2007.
Lastly, IBM is introducing its Data Center Global Consolidation and Relocation Enablement offering, where IBM Site and Facilities technicians and other Global Services specialists will help customers consolidate and relocate existing data centers (Columbia River, anybody?). IBM's experience in building data centers around the world will prove very valuable with this offering, Sams says.
IBM is planning to launch additional Site and Facilities services products to chase what it estimates is a $25 billion per year opportunity in building new data centers and augmenting existing data centers for increased capacity. The group, which currently has 500 dedicated employees, expects to double its revenues in the next year, according to Sams, who isn't allowed by IBM to disclose the exact figures.
IBM to Try Selling Technical Services as Products
This article has been corrected. Steve Sams said a fully loaded BladeCenter can generate 25 to 40 percent less heat than a comparably equipped rack, not more heat. IT Jungle regrets the error.