IBM puts blades on a low-carb(on) diet

Big blue turns an environmental shade of green with its lower-wattage processors and flash memory to replace disks

IBM Corp. is adding to its server lineup with new models featuring lower-wattage processors and flash memory instead of disks, all in the name of energy conservation.

IBM calls the new BladeCenter blade and System x rack-mounted servers its "low-carb" models, only here it's referring to low-carbon emissions from needing less electricity, a play on the low-carbohydrates diet for people.

The new servers feature an Intel Corp. quad-core processor, called "Clovertown," that runs at 1.6GHz instead of 1.8GHz. By slowing it down, the processor draws only 50 watts of power, versus 80 watts in the original Clovertown introduced in November, said Douglas Balog, vice president of IBM's BladeCenter line. The new blades are also offered with lower-wattage Advanced Micro Devices Inc. dual-core processors.

IBM also designed the new BladeCenter servers without internal disk drives, which use 10 to 12 watts. Instead, IBM is using a 4G-byte modular flash drive that it claims uses 95 percent less power than a spinning disk drive. The flash drive can be used as a Linux operating system boot drive and as a storage device to complement shared storage on the IT network."

IBM has also improved the efficiency of how electricity is supplied to the servers. The new blade servers claim a power efficiency rating of 90 percent and the rack servers 85 percent, said Balog.

"If a server has 85 percent power efficiency and consumes 1,000 watts, that means you are losing 150 watts to heat before you ever power any component on the server," he said, adding that the industry average power efficiency is only 70 percent.

IBM is also collaborating with network equipment vendors to reduce their power consumption. A 20-port 10G-byte Ethernet switch in an IBM blade draws just 60 watts of power, said Vikram Mehta, president and CEO of Blade Network Technologies Inc., a supplier to IBM as well as its rival, Hewlett-Packard Co. A typical 4-port 10G-byte Ethernet switch draws as much as 1,800 watts.

Although most data center server power-efficiency efforts focus on the server processor, other components of the IT infrastructure can also be improved, Mehta said.

"Energy efficiency is not just the processor story, it's the system story," he said.

Electricity is not only more expensive for data centers and other energy users, it's identified as a contributor to global climate change. Electricity generated by coal or natural gas power plants creates carbon dioxide emissions and a build-up of these so-called "greenhouse gases" can cause climate change.