Bengaluru, India – 10 Dec 2014: IBM (NYSE: IBM) Combining the power of the sun, the cooling ability of water, and the use of high-voltage direct current (HVDC), IBM today announced that it has built a highly energy-efficient mainframe that could portend future data centers that consume far less power. IBM has deployed these technologies with its latest generation zEC12 mainframe system that is being run on solar power, water cooling and HVDC technologies – completely off the electric grid.
With the exponential increase in data being generated through growing mobile usage, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things, data center energy consumption is increasing rapidly and efficiency is at a premium. Data centers require energy in order to organize, process and store these huge amounts of data on large computing systems and also keep them at operating temperature, especially under stressful climate conditions. With some data centers consuming power in the range of hundreds of megawatts, the net power consumption of data centers across the world is now in the range of hundreds of Gigawatts and growing.
“We are constantly exploring ways in which we can make our data centers more energy efficient and help reduce the electric cost. We have created the first highly energy efficient data center by integrating solar energy together with water cooling and HVDC solutions. This integration has opened up new possibilities in the area of energy efficiencies and is the latest investments made at the India lab to design an efficient and smarter data center,” said Sandesh Bhat, VP, India Software Labs, IBM India/South Asia.
IBM has already been using solar energy to power its Bangalore data center since 2011. Engineers at IBM India have now integrated solar energy together with water cooling and HVDC solutions to create the first highly energy-efficient data center.
“We have been working to make our data centers less energy “hungry” and adapt more green technologies,” said Arvind Krishna, General Manager of development & manufacturing at IBM. “As we have added each piece of the energy-savings puzzle — integrating solar energy, water cooling and HVDC — we now see a set of technologies that could completely transform the way data centers are designed.”
The Role of Direct Current
Computing chips that are the heart of any computing system, including mainframes, laptops, etc., run on direct current. Computers convert alternating current (AC) power from the grid into DC power through AC-DC conversion. These chips are typically cooled by air through fans embedded in the system that draw the heat out of chips. In a data center, this hot air is then cooled by cold air that is pumped in through air conditioners. In a typical data center, only about 50-60% of the power drawn by the data center reaches the computing chips while rest of the power goes into cooling and other processes.
Solar panels are a natural source of direct current and IBM is using the DC output from solar arrays to directly feed DC input to computing systems through a high-voltage DC micro-grid. The solar panels can be strung in an efficient manner to produce the required HVDC input to computing systems that relay the DC input to computing chips. This process greatly eliminates the multiple AC-DC conversion steps in typical data centers connected to the grid, thereby improving the energy efficiency by over 10-15%. Such energy savings are significant for data centers, given that data centers consume 3% of the total power in the world.
IBM engineers have also now enabled power circuitry to mix-and-match power depending on the solar power output. For example, on a cloudy day, the solar output could be lower than designed capacity. In order to efficiently use that generated solar output, the new circuit can mix power from other sources together with that generated by the solar array. In energy-hungry countries like India, for instance, businesses offset the power grid with diesel generators for many hours a day. Savings here would be much higher, as would the green benefits of clean energy vs. diesel.
Water Cooling, Naturally
Another significant step in this technology is the major breakthrough IBM has made in the water cooling of computing chips. In order to manage the operating temperature of computers, heat extraction from computing chips is a major challenge and this has become a limiting factor in semiconductor scaling. With a heat capacity that is 3000 times higher than that of air, IBM engineers sought a way to use water as a coolant for chips.
Their unique water cooling modules are embedded with the heat sinks of semiconductor chips to allow direct heat extraction from the chips to the water. This technology allows the ability to pack far more compute density for a given area, which can lead to massive savings in real estate space and energy savings. In addition, water-cooling at a chip level eliminates the need for air conditioning at a data center level…another substantial savings, especially in hotter climates.
With improved energy efficiency of computing chips, solar and water cooling technologies, it might be soon be possible to run a supercomputer in a home or small business.