IBM Chills Out

IBM unveiled its 'Cool Blue' cooling system this week, but will users warm to a water-based technology?

July 16, 2005

3 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Cooling may not be the sexiest data center technology, but it is undoubtedly one of the most crucial. This week, after three years in the development lab, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) unveiled new technology to tackle the data center heat wave (see IBM Unveils Cool Blue).

IBM's given it a grand handle: the eServer Rear Door Heat eXchanger, code-named Cool Blue.” It's a cooling system that fits onto the back of a standard server rack. Unlike traditional cooling technologies, which use fans to disperse heat, Cool Blue uses sealed tubes containing chilled water to cool the rack. As this water is pumped through the tubes, heat is taken away from the servers.

Heat is a major headache for data center managers, particularly with the advent of ultra-dense technologies such as blade servers (see Data Center Heat Wave and The Heat Is On).

Quite simply, as servers become more compact, they are producing more heat than ever before. This problem is compounded as computer rooms get packed to the rafters with a plethora of kit, from servers to routers and switches. IT managers are left with two big problems – their servers are turning into weapons of mass dissipation, and there is also less space available to rechannel all that hot air.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research, says heat's a big deal. “Over time, the heat emissions of servers have outstripped the ability of data centers to keep up with them,” he says.Cool Blue could help users save money on data center air conditioning, he notes. “Companies could also use this to reduce energy costs, which could be a significant saving over time."

IBM, despite all the hype, is not the only vendor that offers this type of technology. Knurr Inc., for example, a vendor of racks, cabinets, and cooling systems, sells a similar product called CoolAdd.

There are other alternatives, too. Rather than using a device that can be fitted onto the back of a single rack, electrical equipment vendor American Power Conversion Corp. (Nasdaq: APCC) has taken a different tack. As part of its NetworkAIR range of products, American Power Conversion offers a range of air conditioning units that actually sit within a row of racks. APC says that NetworkAIR uses a cooling technique called "hot aisle/cold aisle" that draws warm air from the space between two rows of servers, cools it, and then pumps it into what is designated a "cold aisle."

It seems that U.S. users are apt to choose the American Power Conversion kind of solution. Prospective buyers Stateside seem a little uncertain about having a water-based cooling system so close to data center equipment, even though, as King points out, it works like a "reverse radiator on a car."

Adam Steadman, Knurr’s general manager, says that his company has not yet sold any CoolAdd systems in America, although the vendor “has had enquiries from some big companies.” It is a different story in Europe, according to Steadman, where CoolAdd sales “are in the hundreds.”Alex Yost, director of IBM’s eServer Group, however, says his company has already got “a couple of dozen” U.S. customers that either have Cool Blue in place or are considering it. However, the only Cool Blue user that IBM has confirmed publicly is in Europe -- HypoVereinsbank, the second largest bank in Germany.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights