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IBM’s Solar Servers

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There is no investment you can make which will pay you so well as the effort to scatter sunshine and good cheer through your establishment. — Orison Swett MardenAccording to the U.S. Department of Energy, data centers can consume up to 100 times more energy than a standard office building.In fact, less than 15% of original source energy is used for the information technology equipment within a data center.

A technician inspects IBM's solar-power array atop the roof of the company's software development lab in Bangalore, India. The technology is designed specifically to run high-voltage data centers, integrating AC- and DC-based servers, water-cooling systems and related electronics. The 6,000-square-foot array is capable of providing a 50-kilowatt supply of electricity for up to 330 days a year, for an average of five hours a day.

A 2008 McKinsey report suggested that demand for data centers was expected to grow at 10% CAGR over the next decade, but because of their enormous energy consumption, they were expected to consume as much energy as 10 new major power plants by last year (.2% of world energy production!)

Enter Big Blue.

IBM said today that is rolling out the first solar-power array designed specifically to run high-voltage data centers, integrating AC- and DC-based servers, water-cooled computing systems and related electronics.

The new array is spread over more than 6,000 square-feet of rooftop covering IBM’s India Software Lab in Bangalore.

The solar array is capable of providing a 50-kilowatt supply of electricity for up to 330 days a year, for an average of five hours a day.

By employing unique high-voltage DC power conditioning methods – and reducing AC-DC conversion losses – the new IBM solution can cut energy consumption of data centers by about 10 percent and tailors solar technology for wider use in industrial IT and electronics installations.

In many emerging markets, electrical grids are undependable or non-existent. Companies are forced to rely on expensive diesel generators.

That makes it difficult and expensive to deploy a lot of computers, especially in the concentrated way they’re used in data centers. Using IBM’s solution, a bank, a telecommunications company or a government agency could contemplate setting up a data center that doesn’t need the grid.

The solution, in effect, creates its own DC mini-grid inside the data center.

High-voltage, DC computer servers and water-cooling systems are beginning to replace traditional, AC-powered servers and air-conditioning units in data centers.

IBM’s Bangalore array is the first move to blend solar-power, water-cooling and power-conditioning into a “snap-together” package suitable to run massive configurations of electronic equipment.

“The technology behind solar power has been around for many years, but until now, no one has engineered it for efficient use in IT,” said Rod Adkins, senior vice president, IBM Systems & Technology Group. “We’ve designed a solar solution to bring a new source of clean, reliable and efficient power to energy-intensive, industrial-scale electronics.”

IBM plans for the Bangalore solar-power system to connect directly into the data center’s water-cooling and high-voltage DC systems. The integrated solution can provide a compute power of 25 to 30 teraflops using an IBM Power Systems server on a 50kW solar power supply.

“This solar deployment, currently powering almost 20 percent of our own data center energy requirements, is the latest in the investments made at the India lab to design an efficient and smarter data center,” said Dr Ponani Gopalakrishnan, VP, IBM India Software Lab. “Ready access to renewable energy in emerging markets presents significant opportunities for IBM to increase efficiencies, improve productivity and drive innovation for businesses around the world.”

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