IBM set to introduce server energy savings plan

Currently available only for mainframes; full server lines and storage systems available soon.

IBM has announced a program that will make it possible for its customers to document server energy savings -- and even trade them for cash, if they want, on emerging carbon markets.

IBM says it's the first in this industry to offer such a program, and though it's initially making it available only for its mainframes, the company plans to extend it to all its server lines and storage systems as well.

How it works: IBM says that if you take distributed systems -- for instance, x86 servers -- and consolidate them on a mainframe, the move will result in an energy savings. Those savings can be calculated based on reference data, a task that will fall to Neuwing Energy Ventures, an independent firm verifying and trading in energy efficiency certificates.

More specifically, IBM say its ongoing consolidation of 3,900 distributed systems onto 33 mainframes will eventually save the company 119,000 megawatt hours annually. The megawatt hours of savings that Neuwing will calculate will include the total savings to power and cool the data center. One energy efficiency certificate is issued for each megawatt hour saved per year.

Those certificates, in IBM's example, would have an estimated value of between US$300,000 and US$1 million based on market conditions, said Rich Lechner, IBM's vice president of IT optimization. Those certificates can be issued for each year of the life of the project.

"The value of these certificates is minute to the real energy savings and the real operational savings that you re going to realize," said Lechner.

Savings are the real draw

Indeed, energy efficiency certificates may prove mere frosting on the layers of punishments and incentives already pushing data-center managers to save energy. Unrelenting server growth, rising power bills, insufficient cooling and even power availability have turned power and cooling issues into the number-one data center headache. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which was asked by Congress last year to study power consumption by data centers, reported in August that it expects computer and data center power consumption to double over the next five years.

IBM isn't alone in providing a financial incentive for energy efficiency. Pacific Gas & Electric, for instance, is working with major utilities to expand a program that pays a company between US$150 and US300 per server removed from service. The utility has been encouraging its customers to adopt virtualization to increase server utilization.

Under IBM's program, a company could keep its energy certificates and use them simply as proof of corporate responsibility. But other companies might sell these certificates on one of the emerging carbon markets.

If you are operating a data center in the center of London, your data center "is a huge percentage of your total power consumption and thereby your CO2 emissions," said Lechner. "If you don't achieve the savings yourself, you acquire it from a third party," he said, which is this case would be mean buying energy savings certificates.

Existing mainframe users can also claim credits based on increased computing requirements. To the degree that you demonstrate that you are growing on an efficient platform, and avoiding costs such as lightly utilized x86 servers, you can project savings, said Lechner.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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