How the term IT solution could become literal

Nick Booth puts aside pedantry for an update on some recent developments around green datacentre technology

Ninety nine times out of a hundred, when asked to explain what problem their IT is a solution to, most salesmen don’t have a clue what you mean. Try it. If they don’t know what problem the technology solves, it means they don’t know the first thing about the product they are trying to sell to you. 

So they’re using words without ever thinking what they mean! Unless, by solution, they mean dissolving computers in water. I tried this with a Nokia once, and the result was more of a suspension.

When someone parrots the word solution, it’s tempting to be a smartarse and ask what sort of solvent they will be dissolving their computers in. But that could be a bad move, because there’s a new trend now for literally immersing computers in liquids.

Peter Hopton, the CEO of Rotherham-based Iceotope, started it, by inventing a system where server blades are immersed in liquid coolant, which cools them far more efficiently than an air conditioning system. As a result, most datacentre companies will be able to ditch those awful, noisy air conditioning units that make tours of a hosting company such agony. That creates a massive money saving, not to mention decimating the company’s carbon and water footprints.

Now, seemingly, everyone is in on the act. Credit Suisse and scientists at the Swiss EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne) are working on a system where water is forced over a unit containing a CPU.

This week, in Minnesota, 3M, SGI and Intel unveiled their own immersive cooling invention for the supercomputer based ‘data center of the future’. What will they think of next? And where do they get their ideas from?

Peter Hopton at Iceotope is quite sanguine about all this. “It’s great to see our partners and friends in the industry experimenting with this technology. Immersive liquid cooling technology is the future of cooling for servers and datacentres as it removes the need of expensive equipment associated with providing clean and cool air to servers,” says Hopton.

“Iceotope prides itself in providing a patented, hot swap, clean and dry user experience of immersion cooling that is already being used in customer environments.”

It’s not going to be a good year for air conditioning salesmen however. It might be a good time to retrain as an IBM mainframe salesman because, as we revealed last week, mainframe sales to the datacentre are surging upwards. They can match the performance of Intel-based racks of servers, but use half the power, half the space and cost half the price, which must leave plenty of margin for the reseller.

Talking of datacentres and carbon emissions, Greenpeace has been badgering Internet companies this week about their IT footprint.  Its annual report, Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet had some hard-hitting conclusions about some of the world’s favourite media brands. Amazon Web Services (AWS) came in for stick for being “far behind its competitors”, and its “zero reporting of its energy or environmental footprint to any source or stakeholder.” Twitter was also criticised for ‘lagging’ in many of the same areas.

The other day Greenpeace activists turned up at Twitter’s HQ in San Francisco and started badgering staff as they went into work. They got some poor, sad unemployed actor to dress up as the Twitter bird, only in green, and cavort around Market Street.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace’s report praises the datacentre energy strategy of six major cloud brands – Apple, Box, Facebook, Google, Rackspace, and Salesforce – which it says have committed to a goal of powering datacentres with 100% renewable energy. “They are providing the early signs of the promise and potential impact of a renewably powered internet,” says report author Gary Cook, senior IT policy analyst for Greenpeace.

Hang on though. What’s so great about a datacentre using up all the finite supplies of sustainable energy? Sure it would be better if they encouraged them to use less energy, rather than monopolising all the wind power.

OK, Facebook has built a data center in Iowa and powered it by wind turbines. But unless the others are all generating their own power, they are still massive consumers, surely.

And that’s not a solution. That’s a problem.

Read more on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)