IBM Developing Low-Emission Data Centres


IBM is working to deliver technology that it claims could lead to zero direct emission data centres, says an IBM researcher at the USENIX Large Installation System Administration conference

IBM is working to deliver technology that it claims could lead to zero dorect emission data centres, said an IBM researcher at a USENIX conference on 6 Nov.

At the USENIX Large Installation System Administration conference, Bruno Michel, manager of Advanced Thermal Packaging at IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratory, said his team is working on new ways to reduce emissions and waste in data centres, including methods such as chip stacking and liquid cooling.

Michel said, “High-performance liquid cooling allows data centres to operate with coolant temperatures above the free cooling limit in all climates, eliminating the need for chillers and allowing the thermal energy to be reused in cold climates,” such as that in Zurich. Indeed, at IBM’s Zurich lab, Michel’s team has “demonstrated the removal of 85 percent of the heat load from high-performance compute nodes at a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius and compared their energy and emission balance with a classical air-cooled data center, a data center with free cooling in a cold climate zone and a data centre with chiller-mediated energy reuse,” he said in the presentation’s introductory text.

“We thought that computers do a lot for biology and we wanted to see what biology can do for computers,” Michel said, noting that a well-functioning computing system in a data centre can work very much like a body’s circulatory system.

Michel said data centers are consuming more and more energy, with data centre energy consumption doubling over the last four years. “Future data centers will be dominated by energy cost, with half of that being spent on coolant,” if nothing is done, he said.

And demand for computing power will only continue to grow with drivers such as mobility and telecommunications, digital media, 24/7 e-commerce, high-performance computing, real-time systems and compliance pushing users to grasp for more and more compute cycles and greater performance.

With that in mind, IBM and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich are working on a “first-of-a-kind water-cooled supercomputer that will directly repurpose excess heat for the university buildings, IBM said in a June 23 news release. The system is called Aquasar and is “expected to decrease the carbon footprint of the system by up to 85 percent and estimated to save up to 30 tons of CO2 per year, compared to a similar system using today’s cooling technologies.”

“We reuse waste heat for remote heating,” Michel said. “The prototype reuses 75 percent of the energy” put into it, he added.

“The vision is that within five years we can have a zero-emission data center,” he said.

Aquasar is slated for delivery by April of 2010, Michel said.

“Energy is arguably the No. 1 challenge humanity will be facing in the 21st century. We cannot afford anymore to design computer systems based on the criterion of computational speed and performance alone,” Prof. Dr. Dimos Poulikakos of ETH Zurich, head of the Laboratory of Thermodynamics in Emerging Technologies and lead investigator of the project, said in the June release. “The new target must be high-performance and low-net-power-consumption supercomputers and data centers. This means liquid cooling.”

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