IBM Touts Mainframe Power "Gas Gauge" for Greener Data Centers

Big Blue also plans to publish typical energy consumption data—based on a monthly survey of approximately 1,000 customer machines—for System z9

Most of us probably wouldn’t buy a refrigerator without first checking its energy efficiency rating, so why should buying a refrigerator-sized mainframe be any different? That’s the signature pitch of IBM Corp.’s latest Project Big Green gambit—a new energy efficiency program (or "mainframe gas gauge") that lets customers monitor Big Iron energy consumption in real-time.

Big Blue also plans to start publishing typical energy consumption data—derived from in-the-field monitoring of approximately 1,000 customer machines—for its z9 mainframes. IBM officials describe the new program as similar to the average "kilowatt-per-year" metrics used to rate the efficiency of refrigerators. In this case, Big Blue is measuring average watts/hour consumed, which can in turn be used to calculate watts per unit.

"The customers come from all industries and geographic areas. Being on z9, they are exploiters of the latest mainframe technology. We have the ability to go min, max as well as typical. Min and max are already available using the power estimator. Few configurations resemble those," comments David Anderson, PE, an IBM green consultant.

IBM also tallies the net power requirements of its Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL), zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP), and zSeries Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) engines: about 20 watts, says Anderson. The upshot, he claims, is a powerful, power-friendly—and powerfully cost-efficient—virtualization platform.

"The mainframe’s high utilization rates and extreme virtualization capability may help make it a more energy-efficient choice for large enterprises," he indicates. "A single mainframe running Linux may be able to perform the same amount of work as approximately 250 x86 processors while using as little as two to ten percent of the amount of energy. Customers can now measure the energy advantages of IBM System z."

According to IBM officials, data collected during August and September indicate that the typical energy consumption of Big Iron is about 60 percent of the "label"—or maximum rating of the mainframe model.

Big Blue’s latest Project Big Green pitch exploits a new on-board power monitor—available immediately—that’s free with System z9, Anderson says. There are a couple of caveats, of course: customers must be running a z9 and also be current on driver 67 microcode, which became available in May.

The on-board power monitor measures a system’s actual energy and cooling statistics—collected by internal sensors—and presents them in real time on the System Activity Display. The result, Anderson claims, is that users can correlate the energy their mainframe systems consume with the work they actually perform. Elsewhere, he says, power statistics can be observed in real time or summarized for project or trend analysis.

Big Blue is also providing a Power Estimator Tool designed to simplify capacity planning. It calculates how changes in system configurations and workloads can affect the entire energy "envelope"—including the power needed to both run and cool the machines, according to Anderson.

A Plus for Planners

Veteran industry watcher Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT, thinks Big Blue is in the vanguard of what’s sure to become a trend among major server vendors. He cites a recent push from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to get server vendors to publish energy usage numbers so that customers can make informed purchasing decisions on the basis of energy efficiency.

"Given the wide range of available server solutions and the EPA’s limited capabilities in testing technically complex products, it rests on vendors to provide accurate data on product energy consumption and efficiency," he argues. "IBM may be the first vendor to deliver this information to the market, but it surely won’t be the last." Elsewhere, King says, IBM’s program could be a godsend for mainframe system operators and capacity planners.

"[T]he mainframe energy consumption data could be helpful to capacity planners and other datacenter professionals who are either currently utilizing IBM’s Systems z solutions or considering mainframe deployments," he comments.

There’s a further wrinkle here, King points out: Big Blue’s power metrics, which establish a consistently high utilization rate for its System z mainframes, help highlight its virtualization chops—as well as highlight Big Iron’s power and cooling cost-supremacy.

"[P]roviding the information should also help IBM in its efforts to position the mainframe’s robust server utilization capabilities as a key ‘green’ computing feature," King concludes. "Though mainframe users ‘mileage may vary,’ System z utilization—as high as 70-80 percent, compared to the 5-10 percent offered by x86 servers—far outstrips distributed systems and can be further enhanced by leveraging z/VM virtualization features."

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