by Beth Bacheldor

Outsourcing the Management of Your Data Center’s Power Supply

Feb 24, 2010
Data Center

IBM Global Services unveils new services designed to help companies get greener.

A few months ago, I got to hear about a partnership between IBM and Syracuse University (SU), which had teamed up with the New York state to build a green data center. Not only is that data center expected to use half the energy a typical data center in operation today, it uses a tri-generation system to produce all the data center’s required power, plus chilled water to cool all the servers, and the cooling and heating needs for the building next door. It also operates completely off the grid and incorporates an energy-saving direct current (DC) power distribution system.

The green data center will serve as the university’s primary computing facility. But what I thought was particularly interesting is that later this year the data center will be used as a Green Data Center (GDC) Analysis and Design Center offering research and analysis services for clients and others who want to build new energy efficient data centers or optimize the efficiency of current centers. It will be an active research lab that can be outsourced, if you will, to others that want to create their own green facilities or develop new green systems and technologies.

Apparently IBM is continuing its green push—which is its Smarter Planet campaign—and this week unveiled some new managed services that will let companies “outsource” the management of energy and mechanics at office buildings, warehouses, factories, power plants, laboratories, campuses, apartments, resorts and all types of buildings. The goal, IBM says, is to help cut costs, better manage systems, and reduce carbon emissions. The services will leverage IBM’s Tivoli and Maximo systems management solutions and will include partnerships forged as part of IBM’s Green Sigma Coalition with companies specializing in metering, monitoring, automation, data communications and software to provide smart solutions for energy, water, waste and greenhouse gas management.

The services will be offered by IBM Global Business Services, and will include everything from solution implementation and integration to real-time monitoring and analysis of heat, air conditioning, and power consumption.

There are other companies that provide monitoring services for energy consumption. Businesses can call on Canadian company Regen Energy to collect data on and monitor air-conditioning and heating systems. Regen Energy has built a Zigbee-based system combined with artificial intelligence to create automated technology that collects data on air-conditioning and heating systems, and based on its findings, can automatically turn them off and on as needed. Doing so can help companies eliminate power spikes—and hefty charges on energy bills—that often occur when multiple air-conditioning and heating units run simultaneously. The EnviroGrid system leverages what’s known as swarm intelligence – a type of artificial intelligence based on the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems (think of the way bees independently work toward the shared goal of a swarm building a hive and making honey). EnviroGrid consists of smart controllers embedded with sensors that monitor energy consumption and microchips encoded with unique ID numbers. The controllers share their sensor data and ID numbers with each other via the Zigbee standard for creating mesh networks. Each controller can switch on and off the individual heating or cooling unit to which it is affixed by evaluating its own data as well as the data from other, nearby controllers. At least one of the controllers within an implementation can be equipped with a cellular modem that communicates the data culled from the controllers back to Regen Energy’s headquarters. Customers can log onto a secure web portal provided by Regen Energy to access that data and monitor the activity of all the controllers in their implementation.

What all this adds up to is a new market for outsourcing, even IT outsourcing. Not only might you want to outsource the management and monitoring of all of your computing infrastructure, you can outsource the management and monitoring of the power to fuel your computing infrastructure. This is important largely because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that servers and data centers accounted for a full 1.5 percent of the total U.S. electricity use. To wit, U.S. data centers burned through 60 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2006. The agency has said that it expects energy consumption by U.S. servers and data centers will nearly double in the next five years, reaching more than 100 billion kWh and costing businesses roughly $7.4 billion a year.

What do you think? Might you be interested in leveraging managed or outsourced services that would help your organization monitor and manage energy consumption in your data centers?