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Smarter Data Centers Improve Energy Efficiency

When it comes to business-critical computing, performance and availability trump all. Whether you’re a financial services company displaying credit card charges to account holders or a wireless communications provider delivering real-time usage information to a customer care center, your data center must respond 24-7. That means devoting energy to cooling, having backup power, running redundant servers, operating power distribution networks and more.

As a result, an ever-growing number of data centers supporting Internet services around the globe consume an enormous amount of power—about 30 gigawatts annually, according to a recent article in the New York Times nyti.ms/13KwIo4. It’s a problem that promises to only get worse, unless the industry takes action to increase energy efficiency, and there, IBM can help.

Until recently, energy efficiency only received minimal attention. Part of the problem is that in many organizations, the bills for data centers aren’t handled by the IT department but by facilities management. The IT department pushes for the performance it requires, often ignoring the desires of facilities management. As global energy prices shot up in recent years and a recession pushed companies to aggressively slash expenses, this problem became visible to organizations. At the same time, power grids in densely populated urban areas like Manhattan became overtaxed, prompting electrical utilities to prohibit or significantly increase the cost of adding data centers.

IT departments find themselves trapped between data center limitations imposed by facilities management and the demand from their internal and external customers for increasingly more computing power and storage. What’s a CIO to do? Build a smarter data center with IBM.

Through a combination of sophisticated data center monitoring and control, advanced virtualization, and über-efficient microprocessors, IBM clients can enjoy power savings of almost 50 percent in an integrated solution that can deliver ROI in as little as a few months.

Data centers can feature thousands of servers and each one is packed with processors and other electronics that generate heat, no matter the level of utilization. To prevent outages, the devices need air conditioners, fans or another type of heat-transfer technology to keep the electronics cool. Not only do these units require energy to run, they typically generate additional heat on their own, adding to the problem they are introduced to solve. Other infrastructure tasks that consume power include humidity control, monitoring equipment, wiring losses in the cabling and interconnects, and even power used for testing backup generators.

A 2009 industry consortium known as the Green Grid introduced a metric called power utilization efficiency (PUE), which is defined as the ratio of the energy input into a data center versus the energy used to run the IT equipment itself. An ideal data center would run with a PUE of just over 1; the reality was far different. “Analysis a few years ago showed the average PUE was closer to 4, so there’s been a lot of focus on driving efficiency,” says Brad Brech, IBM Distinguished Engineer, Systems and Technology Group Architecture Board. Driving down PUE requires a multipronged effort based on smarter data centers, increased utilization and energy-efficient hardware. IBM offers top-to-bottom technology to improve PUE at every level.

Kristin Lewotsky is a freelance technology writer based in Amherst, N.H.

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