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IBM - Energy Efficient Server Systems

Added on 22-03-2013





Business challenge

Innovations in server designs have significantly increased the processing capabilities of computer servers, enhancing productivity and ability to develop technological solutions to business, environmental and social challenges. Despite a reduction in the energy required to deliver a unit of computation, the overall energy used by server and storage systems is rising quickly. Operationally, this has caused energy and cooling costs to become a major expense in the management of datacenters and requires expensive upgrades to existing facilities to accommodate new servers. Environmentally, the increase in energy usage drives the generation of greenhouse gases contributing to Climate Change.


IBM hardware and software engineers have designed current generation server systems with an eye towards minimising the loss of energy in the system while maximising the amount of work that is drawn from each kilowatt of energy consumed in the system. Key developments include:

  • More efficient power supplies: fewer wasted watts in the transition from AC to DC power. IBM power engineers have worked with power supply partners to develop power supplies that perform conversions at 91% efficiency, compared to typical efficiencies of 70%. This provides more power to perform work and generates less heat to be removed.
  • Smarter thermal solutions: On larger servers, the processor systems are cooled with small refrigeration units - the most efficient thermal solution. Blade servers also offer a water cooling option, CoolBlue ™, where facility limitations demand more efficient cooling. The design of the blade server chassis and the blades establishes the optimal air flow for cooling. The chassis is cooled by a pair of fans drawing a mere100 W while standard industry solutions use multiple fans drawing up to six times the power.
  • Shared Components: Power, cooling and networking infrastructure support multiple processing components, reducing the number of systems drawing energy and delivering more work for the energy applied.
  • Thoughtful Component Choices: Throughout the design process, the IBM team made a concerted effort to choose lower voltage processors for blade servers. This has helped to significantly decrease the power draw of the blade server while still providing high levels of performance
  • Proactive Energy Management: IBM software engineers have developed PowerExecutive ™, a software tool that monitors the hardware to yield data on the power usage of the server. It provides the knowledge necessary to "right size" the rack and manage system workload to optimize power usage. The combination of innovative design, shared infrastructure, and superior power efficency, allows IBM blade servers to deliver the requisite high level of performance with 25 to 40% better utliziation of energy compared to other industry standard solutions; a savings for the bottom line and the environment.


Server and storage systems will continue to demand more power as processors are built on smaller geometries and applications demand more data storage and communications support. The laws of physics will demand innovative hardware, software, and facility designs to mitigate this rising demand for power.

Challenges/Lessons learned:

Use of high efficiency power supplies, shared components, integrated cooling configurations and power management software reduces the energy demand of the blade server by 25-40% when compared to other industry standard solutions, enabling more work with less energy or more server capability with no additional power or cooling rquirements.

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