A Bloom Box Powering The Data Center? Hold Your Horses!

If you are anything like us at Forrester, you probably got swept up in all the media coverage of the Bloom Box -- the clean energy fuel cell that is supposedly going to save us from all our energy woes. The technology is certainly impressive and will hopefully lead to significantly lower energy bills and carbon emissions down the road. And a number of Fortune 100 companies have bought into the Bloom Box, including eBay, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, FedEx, and Wal-Mart.

But is the Bloom Box suitable for the data center? No, for now. And here are two major reasons why…

First, the Bloom Box falls short of typical data center uptime expectations. Despite what was touted on 60 minutes, it turns out that Google has NOT in fact been using a Bloom Box to power one of their data centers, but instead has been using it to help power a portion of their Mountain View campus. In fact, Google reported that the Bloom Box only provided 98% uptime which would not acceptable for even a Tier 1 data center. So unless you plan on using your backup generators a lot more frequently, the notion of weaning your data center of the electricity grid is not foreseeable.

And second, the energy-savings may not be significant enough for large consumers of electricity in many locations. The $700-800k boxes will provide electricity at approximately 8-9 cents per kW hour, says Gizmodo, which is fantastic if you your data center is in California or the Northeast where industrial power costs run between 10-18 cents per kW hour (or in Europe where the power costs are even higher). But this is not as great of a deal if your data center is in, let's say, Colorado where industrial power is as low as 6 cents per kW hour. And another wrinkle in the economics is that these low energy rates are the result of “huge government subsidies -- a 30% federal tax credit and $2,500-per-kilowatt rebate from the state of California,” reports CNNMoney.com.

Despite all of this, the idea of using a Bloom Box to power your data center is exciting – not only to reduce rising energy costs, but also improve your IT organization’s green credentials. Forrester’s TechRadar analysis of green IT 1.0 technologies placed the category of “clean energy technologies to power the data center” on the significant success curve, and the Bloom Box is another energy technology to add to this list. 

But for now the uptime and economic shortfalls of the Bloom Box will be a turn off to most data center managers. However, when these fuel cells start to come down in price and become more reliable, Forrester expects to see these as a significant technology in the next generation data center.

Rachel Dines