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IBM shifts $1B in effort to make corporate data centers more energy efficient

In a sign that environmental sensibilities are informing business strategies, IBM Corp. is spending $1 billion to spread technologies and services that could make corporate computing centers more energy efficient.

Under an initiative that IBM executives intend to announce at an event Thursday in New York, the company will reoutfit the ”data centers” it operates and help its customers redo their own with multiple power-saving approaches.

Data centers are huge, humming banks of servers that process transactions, serve up Web pages and store information. Because of all the electricity and air conditioning those computers need, data centers can be energy hogs.

IBM – which has pledged, like several other big companies, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions – is a leading data center operator, with more than 8 million square feet of these computing warehouses worldwide.

Among the ways IBM expects to make data centers greener is through heavier use of ”virtualization” technologies, which let one computer handle the operations of multiple machines. IBM also plans to deploy more ”provisioning software” that increases the time that servers switch to power-saving standby mode. And it expects to launch new liquid-cooling systems that capture power in off-peak times and store it for peak use.

The $1 billion is being reallocated from other purposes and is not an increase in the company’s investment or capital expenditure plans. Even so, IBM is expected to call this a massive effort that reflects how energy issues are a higher priority for its customers.

Forrester Research analyst Christopher Mines said the initiative reflects the fact for an increasing number of companies, environmental responsibility now is ”an input to business strategy rather than just being an output.”

”I think this is a strong effort by IBM to pull the pieces together,” Mines said. ”People are aware of the environmental impact of their IT (information-technology) shop, but many of them aren’t doing anything about it so far. I think that’s going to change.”

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