IBM helps data centers to keep their cool

IBM Tuesday is to take the wraps off its eServer Rear Door Heat eXchanger, a cooling system for data centers to resolve hotspots and overall cooling issues.

IBM is to take the wraps off its eServer Rear Door Heat eXchanger, a cooling system for data centers. The water-cooled door helps to resolve data center hotspots and overall cooling issues, according to a company executive.

Previously code-named "Cool Blue," the door fits onto IBM's eServer Enterprise rack. The four-inch thick door contains sealed tubes of chilled water, tapped from a data center's existing chilled water supply for its air conditioning system, according to Alex Yost, a director in IBM's eServer products division. The chilled water in the tubes helps to remove and dissipate the heat generated by the servers.

"Eighty to 90 percent of our customers already have chilled water to run their aircon systems," Yost said. "They have chilled water running around, under or above the data center today."

IBM has tested the water-cooled door against a fully loaded rack of 84 servers putting out 80,000 BTUs (British thermal units), according to Yost. Before deploying the door, standing in front of the rack is like "standing in front of a blow dryer," he said. "The difference using Cool Blue is unbelievable" since the door can cut server heat emissions by a maximum of 55 percent, while lowering energy costs by as much as 15 percent, Yost added.

As customers add more and more servers to their data centers to meet their growing performance needs, they're finding that their existing cooling systems are unable to cope with the strain of increased heat emissions. They have had only two choices to try and lower heat emissions, according to Yost. They either have had to put in expensive additional cooling capacity or install more racks into their data centers and split their servers between the racks.

Adding a new rack increases a data center's size by 16 square foot, Yost estimated, a potentially costly option when office space can be at a premium. IBM's new water-cooled door is only four inches thick, so it doesn't take up much space and lets IT managers fill up racks fully and not worry about heat emission, he said.

IBM has spent three years developing the door, representing primarily an investment of intellectual capital from IBM's thermal engineers, Yost said. In dollar terms, Big Blue has invested "in the hundreds of thousands of dollars" on the technology, he added.

Yost expects customers to deploy several of the doors in their data centers where they have hotspots. Germany's second largest bank, HypoVereinsbank, has opted for the door to deal with a combination of hotspots and overall cooling issues in its high performance computing environment, he added.

The eServer Rear Door Heat eXchanger is available worldwide today, with a US starting price of US$4,299. Customers need to factor in the cost of connecting the door up to the existing chilled water supply in their data centers, a cost that could vary considerably in different facilities, Yost said.

"It's not a solution for everyone," said Gordon Haff, senior analyst with market research firm Illuminata. "For someone who's restricted in their real estate or hasn't been able to pack their servers as densely as they like [due to heat emission issues], it's a very nice enhancement for them. It's a compromise solution."

IT upbringing will probably determine who's willing to adopt the water-cooled door, according to Haff. "Old mainframe users are likely to be fairly open to it," he said. "But for a lot of data center folks who grew up with Wintel [machines], they may not be very open," not wanting to have to deal with something that smacks of plumbing.

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