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Green Powered

07 October 2007

Proving that a 'green' energy powered datacentre is possible, Frank Booty reports on Smartbunker where Ecotricity, IBM and BT have created a high performance facility that works entirely from renewable energy

BY ADOPTING SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES, companies can gain competitive edge, increase market share and boost shareholder value. The growing demand for 'green' products has created key markets where sharp-eyed ecoentrepreneurs are reaping rewards.

Power-hungry data centres become problematic in such an environment. When how much energy a large datacentre consumes is considered, it becomes obvious why. Managed services provider TelecityRedbus for example announced in June it had begun construction of a £50m data centre in central London. This 50,000sq ft site has a planned resilient power capacity of 25MW. That’s about as much power as it takes to power the city of Leicester, according to Steve Wallage, managing consultant at BroadGroup Consulting.

Wallage comments on a number of factors. “The UK has a major upcoming power problem caused by lack of investment in energy network and delay over nuclear – or a suitable alternative. Other European countries, albeit arguably dangerously dependent on Russia, tend to have a better long-term strategy, or, in the case of countries such as France, have made a significant investment in nuclear.”

There is anecdotal evidence suggesting some large companies are keen to site their central IT operations in the Channel Islands so they can connect to both the UK and French power grids. Power challenges vary widely. For power-hungry deployments such as datacentres, London is particularly a challenge, and specifically certain areas such as Docklands and the City. “IT, and particularly data centres, will increasingly be seen as 'bad' in the environmental world, much akin to airlines,” predicts Wallage.

All of which would explain why IBM is keen to be at the forefront of ‘green IT’. This May, IBM announced spending of $1bn/year across its businesses to dramatically increase the level of energy efficiency in IT. As part of Project Big Green, 850 energy efficiency architects are to be sent out to IBM customers around the world to spread the message and armed with tools to drive down IT costs.

In June this year, Centrinet, a leader in managed network and secure data hosting services, launched Smartbunker, a datacentre purpose built near Lincoln to provide high performance managed hosting services using zero carbon energy. Power used within the 30,000 sq ft data centre is free from carbon emissions, being generated entirely from renewable resources.

Smartbunker, a division of Centrinet, provides managed datacentre services including enterprise class managed server hosting from self-owned and operated data centres. Smartbunker was created to provide professional grade service with minimal environmental impact using low-energy server infrastructure from IBM and 100 per cent zero carbon energy. Smartbunker's customers are able to call on the resources of an awardwinning support team, providing 24/7 global cover. Established in 1995, Centrinet provides managed network services, supporting over 24,000 end-user organisations managing 350 sites in 65 countries.

The zero carbon energy policy is considered a preferable alternative to 'carbon offsetting' in which carbon emitted by traditional energy supplies is theoretically neutralised by projects designed to extract carbon from the environment. Smartbunker provides a new concept for customers looking for a competitive managed hosting service with minimal environmental impact.

"The zero carbon energy used in the datacentre costs a little more than standard supplies but this is offset by the power saving derived from the design of our infrastructure. All the elements of Smartbunker's design, combined with Centrinet's proven expertise, guarantees our customers have all the service and environmental benefits at no additional cost," says Kelly Smith, MD at Smartbunker.

To deliver guaranteed high performance with reduced environmental impact, Smartbunker exclusively uses IBM BladeCenter servers that integrate servers, networks, storage and applications in highly efficient one-inch systems, which sit in a rack like books on a shelf. BladeCenter utilises unique innovation from IBM, including something dubbed ‘calibrated vectored cooling’, which manages air intake, fan placement and zone cooling technologies to maximise the airflow inside the blade server for optimal cooling efficiency. The system also uses energy-efficient power supplies that deliver as much as 90 per cent power supply efficiency savings.

“The Blade servers utilise Intel 5148 low energy processors,” says Smith. “We are working closely with IBM on many future issues.”

IBM has recently released POWER6 processors, for example, which it says are the fastest microprocessors ever built and which will be incorporated into the next generation of its computer systems. At 4.7GHz, the dual-core POWER6 processor doubles the speed of the previous generation POWER5 while only using around the same amount of electricity to run and cool it. This means customers can use the new processor to either increase their performance by 100 per cent or cut their power consumption virtually in half.

On the performance front, IBM claims its new 2- to 16-core Unix server also offers three times the performance per core of the HP Superdome machine, based on a standard industry benchmark. The processor speed of the POWER6 chip is nearly three times faster than the latest HP Itanium processor that runs HP’s server line. Another impressive claim is the processor bandwidth of the POWER6 chip (300 gigabytes per second) could download the entire iTunes catalogue in about 60 seconds – 30 times faster
than HP’s Itanium.

IBM estimates that 30 SunFire v890 systems can be consolidated into a single rack of its new System p570, saving more than £50,000 per year on energy costs. On top of that, it says the p570 now holds the top position in the four main industry performance benchmarks for Unix servers which it says means its new server is the first ever to hold all four top spots simultaneously.

BT is providing Smartbunker with tripleredundant tier one Internet connectivity, and Ecotricity, which leads green electricity retail and wind turbine development in the UK, supplies Smartbunker with zero carbon electricity. Smartbunker uses Ecotricity's 'New Energy Plus' service with electricity generated from 100 per
cent renewable resources. Energy in the data centre is derived from wind power, the world’s fastest growing sustainable energy source.

"By creating a zero carbon energy data centre, Smartbunker has set an important precedent for the data industry," says Dale Vince OBE, founder and MD at Ecotricity. "We are pleased to be partnering with a company whose focus is on both service excellence, and utilising new green energy from Ecotricity, the only green energy that actually delivers zero carbon emissions."

While Ecotricty and similar ventures will be investing substantial sums of money in the wind turbine equipment (it costs about US$1.8m per MW installed today for example), the cost of wind power generated clean power is coming down.

Jacqueline Davey, director of IBM’s Systems and Technology division, says, "Smartbunker has taken one of the most pressing data centre dilemmas, uniting excellent service with environmental responsibility, and created a practical solution."

Managed hosting services provided by Smartbunker will immediately appeal to companies who are unwilling to compromise on quality of service, security and price, but who wish to benefit from Smartbunker's impeccable environmental credentials.

“One of our customers here on a specific project is Regus,” says Smith. “Of the 30,000sq ft available to us, 1,200 customers consume 1,000sq ft so there is plenty of scope for expansion. Currently we have a staff of 40 and are handling 55,000 support requests a year.”

Recycled bunker
Back in the 1950s the Lincolnshire bunker was built as part of an RAF radar station, then in the 1980s it was refurbished by the Home Office as an emergency control centre and regional seat of government (and thankfully never used). In the early 1990s the infrastructure was dismantled and the site mothballed for some 10 years. In 2003 Smartbunker acquired the site.

“You could say it’s the ultimate recycling story,” says Smith wryly. “We offer three key items. The security and facilities offered by the bunker; on the environmental side, the power efficiency and zero carbon energy; and services from a mature services organisation – not a start-up. Take these three together and you have a unique and powerful business offering. Other facilities similar to us offer some of these, but no-one else offers all three.”

Smartbunker appears to be addressing today’s hot topics of power and cooling. Gartner Research says power demands have gone up 15-fold since 2002. Remember, what was once contained in an entire data centre now fits into a rack, yet still draws the same amount of power. It’s vital FMs work closely with IT procurement specialists in reviewing product specifications relating to power requirements, redundancy
features, floor loading factors and space and cooling data.

Now add in the research done by ARI on datacentres which shows physical space is becoming a premium and power density is reaching critical proportions, and it really does look like Smartbunker has found a proven solution.

● Frank Booty is a freelance writer

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