Water cooling returns to IBM mainframe

Last water-cooled IBM mainframe computer family, the ES/9000, was unveiled in 1995

IBM next will will begin shipping a computer with something that customers have not seen in a new mainframe from the company since 1995 -- water cooling.

The new mainframe, dubbed the zEnterprise 196, can operate with up to 96 processors versus 64 in the System z10 mainframe using about the same amount of power.

IBM credits the improved efficiency to an assortment of updates affecting how the new system uses its resources. Nonetheless, IBM saw fit to offer water cooling to help reduce overall data center cooling needs.

The zEnterprise 196 doesn't include the built-in, integrated water cooling systems of old, said Jim Porell, an IBM distinguished engineer who works on the zSeries. Instead, the company is offering users an optional water cooled heat exchanger,

"It's actually kind of back to the future," said Porell, of the water option. The last line of IBM mainframes that had built-in water cooling was the ES/9000 family.

Porell said the optional water cooling system can improve overall environmental needs by about 12%, which may help some IT managers "squeeze the last piece of floor space in before they go buy a new data center," said Porell.

Water is more efficient than air in removing heat, he added.

The mainframe quad core 5.2-GHz chip, which IBM claims is the world's fastest processor, also runs a little hotter than the previous 4.4-GHz mainframe quad processor, said Porell.

IBM's return to liquid cooling began in 2005 with the release of eServer Rear Door Heat eXchanger for its increasingly dense blade servers. But that technology was also optional add-on for user.

In April, 2008, IBM introduced a water-cooled supercomputer, the Power 575, which runs with Power6 chip. That system uses water-chilled copper plates located above each microprocessor.

IBM's mainframe chip development continues to head in the direction of higher clock speed, and Porell declined to speculate on what the limit may be.

IBM's mainframe chip was designed by the company in Poughkeepsie, NY, and is manufactured East Fishkill, NY.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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