IBM will inch up heat in new data center

Will start at 75 degrees and potentially run at up to 80.6, thanks to sensor technology

IBM has opened a football field-size data center in North Carolina it says will rely heavily on outside air for cooling as it turns up the heat inside, gradually.

This new data center, about 60,000 square-feet in the Research Triangle Park N.C., incorporates IBM's latest approaches to energy. It includes thousands of sensors that dynamically monitor temperature, humidity, air flow and circuits all of which is integrated into the building's management and IT systems. The data center will be supporting cloud platforms.

"What we tried to do here is have a data center that is more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent than anything we have done before," said Joe Dzaluk, IBM's vice president of infrastructure and resource management at the Global Technology Services division. The data center will use about 6 MWs of power initially, but is designed to be expanded to 100,000 square feet and 15 MWs.

Among the things the company is doing to reduce energy usage is to adopt latest environmental recommendations by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, which allow the temperature for data center equipment from the old recommendation of 77 degrees Fahrenheit to 80.6, reflecting improvements in equipment design.

The maximum temperature involves certain moisture ranges as well. IBM will start at 75 degrees and inch its way up over time, in part because the data center will have some non-IBM equipment running in it.

The data center will also use outside air to cool radiators and chill water, and the company believes it will be able to take advantage of outside temperatures for cooling more for more than half the year.

Dzaluk said that once measurements are taken he expects the data center will be among the most efficient in the world, with a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio of about 1.2 to 1.3. Facebook Inc. recently announced a new data center in Prineville, Ore., that it says it expects a PUE ratio of 1.15.

PUE is the ratio of total facility power, including everything from the cooling systems, UPS, and lighting, to IT equipment power, the load associated with all IT equipment, and the servers and storage.

The PUE rating isn't perfect. David Cappuccio, chief of research, infrastructure at Gartner, said PUE rating doesn't tell you how efficiently someone is running their equipment.

Nonetheless, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be moved up on a method for data center managers to compare their efficiency against industry standards. The EPA has been gathering data from more than 100 companies to develop a benchmarking standard, along the lines of its Energy Star, that may use the PUE or a close relative to assess the power efficiency of a data center. It may be released in April.

Cappuccio said he expects that the EPA standard will increase pressure on data center managers who will likely be asked to explain how they compare with that federal recommendation. That may drive more data center construction business, he said.0

The big vendors, such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and most recently Dell with its acquisition of Perot System last fall, have been adding capability to meet the data center needs of their clients.

Cappuccio said data center consulting is a line of services that could help could help these companies across their other lines. "If I contracted IBM to help me build a data center and they did a good job, the likelihood that I would use IBM services for something else is pretty high," he said.

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

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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