IBM Turns a Brighter Shade of Green With Linux Mainframe Switch

As part of its ongoing Project Big Green initiative, IBM announced Wednesday that it is replacing 3,900 computer servers in its datacenters with 30 System z mainframes running Linux, for an expected energy reduction of 80 percent over the next five years.

The move represents one of the most significant transformations in a generation for the company’s datacenters, which support more than 350,000 users and span some 8 million square feet of space (equivalent to 139 football fields) in New York, Connecticut, Colorado, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, it said.

“As one of the world’s largest technology providers, IBM consistently assesses how our systems can be maximized to support our employees and clients,” said Mark Hennessy, vice president and chief information officer for the company. “A global account consolidation truly demonstrates that IBM is committed to driving stronger energy and technology optimization, and cost savings.”

Virtual Power

The consolidation plan takes advantage of virtualization, or the ability of a single mainframe to behave as hundreds or thousands of individual servers. By parceling out each mainframe’s system resources, including processing cycles, networking, storage and memory, to many “virtual” servers, each of which functions as a real, physical machine, virtualization is expected to result in energy, software and support savings.

First, by replacing the 3,900 servers — each of which requires it own power supply — with the 30 mainframes, IBM expects to save enough electricity “to power a small town,” the company said. Second, because the new mainframes will contain far fewer processors than the 3,900 servers do in aggregate, there will also be a reduction in the costs for software, which is often priced on a per-processor basis. Finally, IBM also expects the new infrastructure will free its staff from many systems administration tasks.

Global Impact

IBM datacenters in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Southbury, Conn., Boulder, Colo., Portsmouth, UK, Osaka, Japan, and Sydney, Australia, will participate in the initiative.

The 64-bit System z’s ability to run Linux is critical to the consolidation project, the company said, and will provide an open foundation for a wide variety of applications. IBM has established teams to migrate, test and deploy the applications, which include WebSphere process, portal and application servers; SAP applications; and DB2.

“The mainframe is the single most powerful instrument to drive better economics and energy conservation at the datacenter today,” said James Stallings, general manager for the IBM System z mainframe. “By moving globally onto the mainframe platform, IBM is creating a technology platform that saves energy while positioning our IT assets for flexibility and growth.”

A Warm Reception

IBM’s Project Big Green has garnered praise from government and environmental groups alike, and the new datacenter plan received an equally enthusiastic response.

“The administration strongly encourages private sector leadership in increasing energy efficiency, and we are pleased to see IBM joining many other companies in taking the lead,” Kristen Hellmer, spokesperson for the executive office of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, told LinuxInsider. Such initiatives complement government programs such as Energy Star and Climate Leaders, which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and saving energy, she added.

Thinking Greener

“I commend IBM for attempting to address what is emerging as perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the entire energy marketplace today — namely, the rapid growth in server demand for distributed or datacenter-type applications,” R. Neal Elliott, industrial program director with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, told LinuxInsider.

Most of the energy losses associated with distributed servers are in the power supplies, Elliott noted, so consolidation reduces that problem. “This is a strategy that can be used without necessarily turning to exotic technologies,” he said. Rather, “we just need to think smarter about systems and how to deploy existing technologies to optimize energy consumption,” he explained.

“This is certainly a smart attempt,” Elliott concluded. “It makes a lot of sense.”

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