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Innovation

Power up technology to lessen bills

Rising energy prices are showing no signs of abating, but data center owners and telcos can look to technology to lessen the burden of energy bills.
Written by Jeanne Lim, Contributor on

SINGAPORE--As rising energy prices and utility bills continue to cause service providers around the world much headache, some of these companies are upgrading or deploying newer technology to ease the pain.

According to figures from the Energy Information Administration, which provides energy statistics from the United States government, the price of natural gas for industry was US$3.43 per million British thermal unit (Btu) in 1997. By 2004, the price had risen to US$6.20 per Btu, which is an 80 percent spike over a span of eight years.

Already, server vendors and chip manufacturers, such as IBM, Intel and Sun Microsystems are devising ways to cut down power consumption in the data center.

Google's power bill, for instance, is the search giant's second highest expenditure after employee salaries. This is exacerbated by the fact that Google owns thousands of its own servers.

However, data centers are not alone in feeling the heat.

Representatives from two telecommunications carriers told ZDNet Asia that besides computing systems, other equipment in their facilities contribute to energy costs as well. Heat emission, especially, is a cause of concern.

A spokesperson from Singapore mobile carrier MobileOne (M1) said energy is a key component of the company's overall cost, and when purchasing IT equipment, the evaluation criteria will typically include cost of running the equipment as well as cost of cooling the equipment.

He said: "The latter is a concern for us as the equipment's rate of heat dissipation determines the amount of power required to cool it."

For pan-Asian telecommunications carrier Asia Netcom, energy costs make up a big portion of the overall cost of operating its facilities, particularly at its cable landing stations which maintain carrier-grade environmental, fire control and suppression, and security systems.

Andy Lumsden, the company's director of engineering, told ZDNet that the bulk of energy costs for carriers such as Asia Netcom, is generated not so much by computer systems, but data transmission equipment in the form of network switches, which control traffic on the network.

To help cut costs, Asia Netcom recently upgraded its core platform from the older Lucent BandwidthManager to the Lucent LamdaUnite, Lumsden said.

One of the biggest cost benefits of the new platform is that it offers much denser switching capacity, he explained. That means, Asia Netcom can now use only one rack of LamdaUnite in place of the previous number of up to 15 BandwidthManager Bays, and still get " the same capacity and performance", he said.

"Within the scope of our upgrade project, we are seeing more than 30 percent in power savings in a configuration that gives us twice the potential network capacity," Lumsden said.

The smaller footprint of its new equipment also meant that Asia Netcom could reduce the cost of running its environmental systems. For instance, the company used to have to manage heat emissions of 10 racks of equipment with the BandwidthManager, but now it only has to manage heat generated from a single unit.

The reduction in air-conditioning power alone equals savings of up to 15 percent, say, for a cable landing station located in Singapore, said Lumsden.

Meanwhile, telecommunications carriers which have identified that computer systems contribute a big chunk of their utility bills may take heart in the fact that vendors such as Intel and IBM, have designed new technology with power efficiency in mind.

Power down efforts
Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's server platforms group, said the company's first low-voltage Intel Xeon processor, previously code-named Sossaman, is designed for server and blade designs where space is constrained.

"This new low-voltage Xeon processor is built as a key component for the telecommunication [carrier's] roadmap where power efficiency is crucial," he said.

The chip has a thermal design power (TDP) of 31 watts, and is suited for deployments requiring high-compute density and power optimization, including single-height (1U) chassis and blade servers, SAN (storage area network) and NAS (network attached storage) products, and network infrastructure equipment, said Skaugen.

IBM, too, has a data center cooling technology called Cool Blue, which it unveiled last July. A technology that took three years to develop, Cool Blue is the code-name for IBM's eServer Heat eXchanger.

It is a cooling system that uses existing chilled water supply from air conditioning systems already located in the majority of data centers, to reduce server heat emissions by up to 55 percent while lowering energy costs by up to 15 percent, said Han Chung Heng, IBM Singapore's general manager of systems and technology.

Cool Blue can remove up to 50,000 Btu of heat generated by a full server rack, he said, adding that another plus point is that it can be deployed for server brand, and not just systems manufactured by IBM.

Hypo Vereinsbank, the second largest bank in Germany, is using the Heat eXchanger to reduce the heat in their data centers, said Han.


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