The Post-Green Era

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

A good energy policy can supercharge an organization’s performance through direct electricity savings, a diminished need for facilities, and lower capital costs related to servers, storage and other devices.

The Post-Green Era

Only a few years ago, the concept of going green was reserved mostly for tree-hugging environmentalists bent on making the world a better place. Today, business and IT are heading into a bold new era that could easily be called post-green. However, many executives—and companies—are still out of touch with the need to boost data center energy efficiency and build a more optimized IT infrastructure.

“For years, there hadn’t been a big emphasis on energy consumption,” says Simon Mingay, research vice president for Gartner. “Power was cheap and plentiful, and price wasn’t a limiting factor. There also hadn’t been much of a focus on greenhouse emissions. But the current economic downturn is forcing organizations to look at costs more closely than ever.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s servers and data centers consumed approximately 61 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006—double 2000’s consumption. And there’s no end in sight. The same EPA report says energy consumption could double again by 2011—even with more efficient systems and better monitoring methods.

Meanwhile, consulting firm McKinsey reports that information and communications technologies—including laptops and PCs, data centers and computing networks, mobile phones and telecommunications networks—could be among the biggest greenhouse gas emitters by 2020.

Many companies are beginning to take action. At Highmark, for example, the introduction of a new corporate data center in November 2005 represented an opportunity to embrace more energy-efficient practices. The company launched its initiative with a U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified facility. It features an Energy Star roof that collects rainwater and stores it in a 100,000-gallon underground tank. It’s used for gray water in restrooms and in cooling towers for the data center (the system evaporates 1,200 gallons of water each day). The building also includes smart lighting systems.

But the company didn’t stop there. Highmark, using energy auditing tools and consulting expertise from IBM, then conducted a thermal analysis of its data center and determined how to space servers and racks for maximum performance and reduced cooling costs. “The important thing was to understand every piece of equipment and what was actually drawing the power,” says Wood, who discovered that 80 percent of the firm’s business transactions were pulling only 20 percent of the power.

“We found that a lot of servers in our data center weren’t being used, even though they were powered up,” Wood continues. “So, the first thing we did was power down those servers when they weren’t in use. Most data centers operate in always-on mode, but we wanted to go to an on-off approach.”

At the same time, IT began switching off unused systems in burning rooms and taking a closer look at how employees used their computers. Finally, the company adopted a server virtualization and consolidation strategy. As a result, three-quarters of Highmark’s 400 servers are now virtualized.

“We picked the low-hanging fruit and then began to look for more opportunities,” Wood recalls. The bottom line? Highmark cut kilowatt-hours by 500,000 during 2008, which represents a net savings of approximately $52,000 on the electric bill. That decrease is significant, he says, noting that “in 2010, the rate caps will be lifted by our local utility company, and that will increase our electric bill by 20 percent to 40 percent.”

In addition, through virtualization, Highmark has reduced equipment demands—and the resulting energy requirements—by a 14-1 ratio. The firm also has slashed overall energy consumption by 10 percent to 12 percent.

Highmark is now looking to adopt disk virtualization and to possibly use wind and solar technologies to help power the data center. “We do not have an unlimited budget, so we have to pick our battles and ensure that we’re achieving maximum results and ROI,” Wood explains.

This article was originally published on 2009-02-22
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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