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Cool Blue: How IBM beats the heat

After three years of development, IBM released a water-based technology to help data centers win the war on heat. The verdict is still out on whether it will solve the issue.

The battle between jacked-up processors and the cooling headaches they cause has reached the boiling point in data...

centers overrun by new boxes stuffed into old footprints.

But IBM said it has developed a water-based weapon that will help server farmers win the war on heat. But the technology is too new for most pros to tell if it's going to solve the problem.

Big Blue today introduced "Cool Blue," an air conditioning technology it has been developing for three years. Known officially as the eServer Rear Door Heat Exchanger (you can see why it needed a nickname), it uses the existing chilled water supply in air conditioning systems common in most data centers to reduce server heat emissions by as much as 55%.

IBM said it is the first systems vendor to develop such a technology, and claims that Cool Blue -- which can be deployed on any server -- will enable customers to ease the burden on existing air conditioning units and potentially lower energy costs by up to 15%.

According to IBM, Cool Blue, with pricing starting at $4,299, isn't for everybody, even though it can be fitted to cool any type of server. Big Blue sees the technology as a way for Intel-centric data centers -- especially in facilities bogged down by space constraints -- to address escalating heat concerns in a cost-effective manner.

"This is a very good solution for hot spots in the data center," said Tim Dougherty, director of eServer Blade Center. "[Cool Blue] is an alternative to adding more air conditioning units … [and] it's an inexpensive solution to get at these hot spots."

Tom Condon, a senior consultant for Systems Development Integration in Chicago, traces the evolution of modern data center cooling headaches to the industry-wide switch from traditional towers to the so-called "pizza boxes," a changeover that happened so quickly that many people failed to retrofit their cooling systems to keep up.

Condon said those folks are now "on the edge" as far as cooling capacity is concerned -- and data centers in such a tight spot are going to need to look past old-school AC units and toward new methods for cooling their servers, especially in places where blade servers spring up like weeds.

"What's ironic is that as boxes get smaller the need for computing capacity gets larger and larger," Condon said. "We're about to hit the wall. We have to find new ways to cool this equipment because traditional ways aren't working."

Cool Blue works like this: It is a door that hinges to the back of a rack, with a hose installed in the floor that goes up the door. Sealed tubes filled with chilled water remove up to 55% of the heat generated in a fully populated rack, then dissipates it by pulling hot water into the unit so it is not released into the data center. IBM said the Heat Exchanger can remove up to 50,000 BTU of heat generated by a full server rack.

Cool Blue is designed for customers whose data centers have reached the limits of cooling capacity, but still have the space and desire to add racks of systems. According to IBM, the improved cooling from the Heat Exchanger enables customers to fill individual racks to their limit, thereby freeing valuable floor space without expanding their footprint.

HypoVereinsbank, the second largest bank in Germany, is Cool Blue's first and so far only customer. It went with Cool Blue to reduce heat temperature in its data center, a high performance computing ecosystem.

"The Heat Exchanger is a very unique solution. It finally allowed us to get the density we've been aiming for, without increasing our cooling requirements or costs," said Volker Machmeier, technical director for HVBInfo, in a statement released by IBM. "In addition, the door is extremely easy to install and use. It fit right into our existing infrastructure to quickly provide more cooling capacity to areas where it was most needed."

Cool Blue can be moved to different racks to address changing cooling requirements. Its design uses standard fittings and couplings and has no moving or electrical parts. It can be opened like any rear cover, so Cool Blue-fitted racks can be serviced like a standard air cooled rack.

The IBM eServer Cluster 1350 system will be one of the first eServer technologies to deliver support for Cool Blue. It is available immediately.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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