IBM, Syracuse Team on ‘Green’ Testbed

An artist rendering of the exterior of a new data center IBM will build and equip at Syracuse University.

An artist rendering of the exterior of a new data center IBM will build and equip at Syracuse University.

A new data center at Syracuse University will serve as a testbed for energy efficient data center design, backed by technology from IBM and financial support from the state of New York. The $12.4 million, 6,000-square-foot data center will combine multiple energy-saving technologies, including on-site power generation, DC power distribution, chillers and cabinets equipped with water-cooled rear-door heat exchangers.

Syracuse University will use the data center for its IT equipment, and also provide detailed analysis of its energy efficiency. IBM will supply $5 million in electrical co-generation equipment and servers, and use the facility to showcase its “green” data center technology. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is contributing $2 million to the project.

The new facility, which is scheduled to be completed late this year, will be powered by a microturbine engine fueled by natural gas, which will generate all electricity for the center and provide cooling for the computer servers. The heat generated by the microturbine will power an absorption chiller unit, which will convert the heat into chilled water to cool the data center’s servers.

The chilled water will be piped into IBM’s “Cool Blue” rear-door heat exchangers attached to each cabinet. IBM and Syracuse say they will implement a precision cooling system that reduces energy use by targeting only the servers that require cooling resources, rather than delivering cooling to all servers as in most data centers. Computer-controlled sensors will be used to monitor thermal conditions in the data center and direct cooling.

None of the specific technologies being used in the Syracuse facility are new, but the project will allow IBM and Syracuse to develop data on the most effective way to use them in tandem for the best collective power savings. Here’s a closer look at some of the energy-saving technologies planned for the facility:

  • Microturbines powered by natural gas operate with low emissions and are in use in a number of data centers.
  • IBM’s Rear Door Heat eXchanger is in use in many data centers, and was judged the most energy-efficient cooling system in a head-to-head “chill off” that tested vendor cooling products in the same data center environment. See our video demo of the rear-door heat exchanger for additional details.
  • DC Power Distribution: Most data centers use power distribution systems in which AC power from the grid is converted into DC power to charge the batteries, and then converted back to AC for the equipment. The loss of power through multiple AC/DC conversions has been cited as an argument for using DC power distribution. But many data center professionals remain leery of DC power, and some vendors argue that high-voltage AC configurations would be a better approach than DC power distribution.

“IBM is joining with Syracuse University to address the end-to-end data center infrastructure, from electricity generation to cooling systems to the operation and management of servers, to develop the greenest, most efficient data center possible,” said Vijay Lund, vice president for development and manufacturing operations in IBM’s Systems and Technology Group.

Syracue University Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor called the project “a perfect example of how effective cross-sector partnerships can be. IBM, NYSERDA and SU each are bringing their strengths to the table to gain vital insight into solving crucial aspects of the intensifying global problem of increasing energy consumption that none of us could achieve separately.”

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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