IBM has unveiled a $1bn-a-year service initiative aimed at building and redesigning data centres that consume less energy.

At a press conference in New York City, the company debuted Project Big Green, which will call on 850 Global Technology Services employees to redesign IBM's own data centres and those of its customers.

"Large companies are facing a large crisis around energy," says Mike Daniels, senior vice president of IBM Global Technology Services. "This issue is surfacing in a number of different ways, whether it's the capital required to build new data centres because people are out of capacity, or where people are out of power or trying to manage that power. We think this is an issue where we can provide leadership for the industry and for our clients."

IBM claims that the savings for customers are great in going green - by using IBM technologies such as their blade servers instead of other vendor's technologies, a customer with a 25,000-square-foot data centre should be able to save as much as 42 percent on energy consumption.

Those savings are huge, says IDC, which estimates that for every dollar spent on computer hardware, another 50 cents is spent on energy. This amount, IDC says, is expected to increase to more than 71 cents by 2011.

The Big Green initiative also will net IBM lots of dollars. The company has put the "$1bn" stamp on two past initiatives: Its $500m investment in e-commerce in 2000 netted the company $1bn in web-hosting services contracts a year later. Also in 2000, IBM announced it had already spent $1bn on promoting Linux and that in 2001 it would spend an equivalent amount.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is one of the customers that says it already has benefited from IBM's green initiative. The company used IBM diagnostic technology at three data centres to measure and identify hot spots, air leakage and other inefficiencies across 40,000 square feet of data-centre space. Had PG&E surveyed this space manually, it would have taken several weeks instead of a few days.

"The real key to us is on energy efficiency and reducing the demand for energy both for us and our customers," says Brad Whitcomb, PC&E vice president of customer products and services.

Further, by using IBM virtualisation technology to consolidate 300 Unix servers into six IBM System P servers, PG&E expects to reduce energy consumption by 80 percent. PG&E also will deploy IBM Rear Door Heat eXchanger water-cooling technology on the System P servers to reduce heat in the data center by as much as 60 percent.

IBM also will benefit from the use of its technologies in going green. The company is redesigning more than 8 million square feet of data centres worldwide. It expects to reduce energy use by five billion kilowatt-hours per year, while doubling its data centres' computing capacity.

The Project Big Green service, which IBM will offer at a cost, has five components: diagnosis, building, virtualisation, provisioning and cooling. It will start with a diagnosis of a customer's existing facilities and include an energy assessment, a three-dimensional power analysis and thermal analytics. A diagnostic component called the IBM Data Center Energy Efficiency Assessment rates the energy efficiency of the data center and presents a plan to increase it.

Another diagnostic service called Mobile Measurement Technology measures temperature distributions in data centres and gathers thermal data on hot spots, air leakage and other inefficiencies. Further, IBM will provide a Thermal Analysis for High Density Computing service that identifies and resolves heat-related issues and provides options for power savings.