"With this project, we're saying, 'Let's not just deal with a piece of the problem,' which is what the industry has been on all these years," explained Vijay Lund, IBM's vice president for development and manufacturing operations. "People have only been solving little pieces of the IT problem."
Instead, IBM and Syracuse plan to build a new data center over the next six months with the ambitious goal of using 50 percent less energy than existing facilities, while also incorporating what Lund calls "advanced 21st-century" technologies into the mix.
A key element of the project involves looking at the entire structure of the data center, more than just the hardware and software inside. Starting with where the power for the facility comes from, the groups will build an on-site electrical co-generation system using a natural gas-fueled microturbine engine to generate all electricity for the center and provide cooling for the computer servers.
Because the output from the turbine is DC, the data center itself will also run on DC power which will save both on energy wastage from the DC-AC conversions, but also presents challenges in adapting the hardware to run on direct current.
Another plank of the project involves using the heat from the turbines to both provide cooling for the data center hardware, but also using heat that would be otherwise wasted to warm other buildings on campus.
The internal operations of the data center will be extensively instrumented and sensored, according to Lund. The goals of the site are to develop next-generation energy generation and efficiency tools, techniques and practices that can be folded into IBM's larger Smarter Planet green IT initiative.
To that end, IBM is building out its completely virtualized, dynamic data center infrastructure so that workloads and applications will move from server to server to maximize the energy efficiency of the facility. The sensors built into the facility will make it possible to direct the workloads to the optimal servers, as well as enabling the cooling system to target only the servers that need it, minimizing wasted cooling power.
In explaining why IBM is partnering with Syracuse for this project, Lund who is himself an alumnus of Syracuse University said the school's multi-disciplinary nature was a major factor. "This work of holistically looking at the green IT problem requires multi-disciplines," he said, adding that IBM and Syracuse have partnered together in the past and developed good working chemistry.
The timeline on the project is very short: the $12.4 million, 6,000-square-foot data center will be completed in five to six months. Refining of the internal processes will continue over several years, as the groups figure out new ways to shave energy bills and improve performance in data centers.