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Big Blue announced today that it was introducing a suite of new energy efficient technologies and services to help businesses struggling with surging costs and tougher sustainability requirements. The big push is for “modular”: IBM will sell miniature versions of its data centers that come pre-assembled and cut energy consumption in half.

Its offerings will include:

* An enterprise-class data center, standardized to between 5,000 square feet and 20,000 square feet to help managers bring new installations online faster

* A portable data center, which comes equipped with all the standard features and can be packaged inside a shipping container

* A “high density zone,” a system that can easily be swapped into an existing data center to supplement its cooling and power capabilities.

It’s all part of Project Big Green, a $1 billion plan the company launched last year to develop technologies that improve the energy efficiency of data centers. In an interview with VentureBeat writer Chris Morrison, Cisco’s VP of green engineering, Paul Marcoux, said data center managers were worried about rising costs, risks and their growing energy needs. The cost of electricity has increased 30 percent over the last five years, he said, and is expected to grow another 30 percent within the next 2 – 3 years. By 2020, it could be 2.5 – 5 times what it is now, placing the imperative on IT-heavy firms to look for new technologies.

Virtualization software is one of the most promising technologies for energy-conscious data centers, as it allows a small number of computers to handle multiple jobs or functions, significantly reducing energy use. To support such technology, IBM has also unveiled several new server optimization and integration services that can be used with VMware‘s popular virtualization software to enable higher use rates, up to 60 percent, and reduce the number of servers needed.

With this announcement, IBM is joining a fast-growing sector — with startups like Altor Networks, ScaleMP and VirtualLogix and established players like Microsoft locked in fierce competition. In recent months, Microsoft has acquired Kidaro, a desktop virtualization firm, and Sun Microsystems has purchased VirtualBox, a German PC virtualization firm. Red Hat recently claimed that its Linux software reduced energy use by up to 12 percent over Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 software on identical hardware.

IBM also unveiled two other new offerings:

* Cool Chips, a system designed to boost computer chip performance and reduce chip energy use by cooling them with tiny rivers of water

* Green financing software for its Global Financing division to facilitate the management of businesses’ green data center projects.

With these products, IBM hopes to tap into the emerging energy efficiency sector, which has yet to see large gains despite its potential. A report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient America recently estimated that energy use could be cut another 25 – 30 percent over the next 20 – 25 years.

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