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New IBM Data Center Has Big Blue Seeing Green

IBM today cut the ribbon on a new data center that showcases state-of-the-art data center management. IBM says the new $362 million facility is intended to support IBM cloud computing initiatives. About half the workload of the center will deliver cloud computing services to customers. According to the company, the facility also reduces infrastructure costs, including a 50 percent cut in energy use, compared to similar-sized data centers.

Among the technological highlights of the new center are sensors deployed throughout the facility that monitor the operations of computers and building systems. This information is used for capacity planning and energy conservation. The center can use outside air to cool servers, which requires less air conditioning. The center also includes a modular building design so that IBM can add new facilities in half the time it would take to expand a traditional building.

As part of its green efforts, IBM monitors the center's power usage efficiency (PUE), a measure of how much of the electricity pumped into a data center is actually used to run the servers, storage and other hardware. The lower the PUE, the more energy-efficient the data center is. A PUE of 3.0 means that only one-third of the power goes to computing, while a PUE of 2.0 means half of it does. Once the data center is fully operational, it should report a PUE of between 1.3 and 1.4, says Joe Dzulak, IBM's vice president for infrastructure and resource management for the Global Technology Services division. IBM anticipates earning a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the second highest of four levels and the first IBM center to win the gold, he says.

IBM is not alone in seeking to improve data center management. "They have to do this because that's the way the industry is heading right now," says David Cappuccio, chief of research on infrastructures at Gartner. For example, HP has data centers it considers a showcase for its technology, such as a 400,000-square-foot facility in Tulsa, Okla., a rebuild project that was finished in 2009. Its PUE improved from 2.1 before the rebuild to 1.6 today, says Ed Kettler, an HP fellow and green IT strategist in the company's Enterprise Services unit. "It's made a substantial improvement in the cost of operation and we can also increase the server density due to more efficient cooling," says Kettler.

The center, based in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, has already been operating for 60 days in 60,000 square feet of space, 40 percent of which has been already allocated to paying clients, says IBM's Dzulak. The center will expand later to 100,000 square feet. The data center hosts a cloud computing solution in partnership with North Carolina Central University and North Carolina State University that enables students at Hillside New Tech High School in Durham to access more educational materials from IBM's cloud than they could support on their own network.