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Thinking Outside the Green IT Box

Thinking Outside the Green IT Box

The green IT movement is gaining steam, but opportunities to conserve energy don't begin and end in the data center. IBM is one company that is looking farther afield to address environmental protection through investments in such innovations as a water-cooled supercomputer, Lithium/Air energy storage tech, water management, carbon management and intelligent networking.

By Charles King
07/07/09 4:00 AM PT

"Green IT" has been a tech industry cause celebre for the past few years, first arising as the potential effects of global warming were coming increasingly to the fore and then enjoying a significant boost as the global recession compounded the practical value of data center energy efficiency and power savings.

Indeed, green IT remains notable as an example of one way companies can do well by doing good: One can have one's green and count it, too, so to speak.

However, the myriad approaches to green server, storage and networking hardware and related software -- including virtualization technologies -- are both concrete and sublime.

Bottom line: We wonder why so many IT vendors fail to push the green envelope much beyond the walls of the data center.

Simple Solutions

Yes, servers and storage arrays are often conspicuous consumers (and often, wasters) of power, so instituting bang-on energy-reduction strategies can translate into an impressive number of bucks.

In most organizations, though, uniformly adopting simple-yet-smart tactics -- replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents or simply turning off the lights at the end of the work day -- can often deliver greater monetary savings.

Despite the proven benefits of non-IT related energy strategies, many vendors have been slow to cast their gaze beyond traditional computing to areas where companies can leverage IT tools and solutions to improve power efficiency or lessen their businesses' environmental impact.

That was the subtext of IBM's recent Green and Beyond Summit in San Francisco. Certainly, the company continues to be among the most active vendors of green IT solutions and services.

Beyond the Data Center

In fact, the new Aquasar water-cooled supercomputer project planned by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) and IBM, along with numerous company customer success stories, attested to that fact.

Yet IBM is also pushing the benefits of green technology well beyond data center walls. In the case of the new Green Sigma Coalition, that effort has garnered considerable assistance from a not inconsiderable list of company partners, including Johnson Controls, Honeywell Building Solutions, ABB, Eaton, ESS, Cisco, Siemens Building Technologies Division, Schneider Electric and SAP.

I was also taken by IBM Research's new multiyear initiative, which is designed to explore Lithium/Air energy storage technologies. The potential capabilities of the technology, which can theoretically store up to 10 times more energy than today's most powerful Lithium-ion batteries, would supercharge a variety of next-generation battery-driven devices and infrastructures.

Natural Fit

IBM's part in the effort largely begins and ends with its research organization. It has no plans to become a battery manufacturer but intends to license intellectual property (IP) resulting from the initiative. However, the company's deep expertise in advanced materials science, nanotechnology, modeling tools and physics makes this new effort a natural and intriguing area of interest for IBM.

Overall, IBM's new Green Sigma Coalition, Aquasar supercomputer and the Lithium/Air research initiative all fit naturally together with numerous other company energy and the environment projects, including advanced water management, carbon management and intelligent utility networks and transportation systems.

As the Green and Beyond Summit illustrated, these efforts underlie or complement broader IBM strategies for addressing a range of global environmental challenges with current and next-generation technological innovation.

E-Commerce Times columnist Charles King is principal analyst for Pund-IT, an IT industry consultancy that focuses on how business technology evolution affects vendors, their customers, and the marketplace.

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