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

IBM 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 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, vs. 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 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 4GB modular flash drive that it claims uses 95% 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% and the rack servers 85%, said Balog.

"If a server has 85% 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%.

IBM is also collaborating with network equipment vendors to reduce their power consumption. A 20-port 10GB Ethernet switch in an IBM blade draws just 60 watts of power, said Vikram Mehta, president and CEO of Blade Network Technologies, a supplier to IBM as well as its rival, HP. A typical four-port 10GB 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.

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