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IBM sells fresh air

It's a tough business, selling fresh air but that's what datacentre builders are now doing.Over 70 percent of datacentres are over seven years old, according to IBM, so new datacentre builds need to take account of new technologies and techniques.
Written by Manek Dubash, Contributor on

It's a tough business, selling fresh air but that's what datacentre builders are now doing.

Over 70 percent of datacentres are over seven years old, according to IBM, so new datacentre builds need to take account of new technologies and techniques. And of course, the 'new' economics that make fresh-air cooling the -- er -- hot topic in the datacentre world.

Naturally, IBM wants to be there to help you spend your cash on a new, fresh-air cooled facility. Along with SGI, whose Ice Cube Air launched this week, last month's launch of EcoBreeze by APC, not to mention Bladeroom which launched a similar facility in May, IBM has joined the fresh-air converts with its brand new Portable Modular Data Centre.

What's different about it, according to Big Blue, is that it threw its analytic expertise -- how much gained from its Cognos acquisition for $5 billion in November 2007 isn't clear -- at the problem and came up with a way of helping CIOs convince the FD to spend on this kind of technology by providing figures showing clear returns, right down to practical advice on which servers are best to move when, and what the consequences are for the rest of the facility.

How it works Designed and supplied by an IBM partner, AST Modular, the facility uses air-to-air heat exchangers combined with water evaporation to lower incoming air temperatures, and the same contained air technique as APC to ensure that air inside the facility remains clean and uncontaminated by external pollution.

IBM's kit is supplied in two containers: the top half contains the cooling system. It sits above the datacentre container from which it sucks warm air and returns cool air using a sealed cold aisle/hot aisle arrangement. Cold aisle temperatures are expected to be between 22 to 24 degrees C. You can, if you prefer, implement it as a cooler-only system so and apply it to an existing or newly-built facility, as has Thor Data Center, an Icelandic early adopter that IBM wheeled out to show off the new product. Thor reckoned it has achieved a PUE of 1.1 -- so it's using just 10 percent more power to cool the servers, storage and networking systems than they consume.

Iceland is of course not a very warm place, with the highest monthly average temperature being 14 degrees C and the lowest -2 degrees C, so it's a good candidate for this kind of facility. AST Modular claimed though its systems can work in hot countries too, and that even though the chillers may need to be working in support up to 75 percent of the time, efficiency savings can still be had.

True or not, fresh air cooling is clearly here to stay -- you could expect a growing proportion of new facilities to start using these techniques, and for those who recently built facilities without them to feel a little -- er -- green.

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