Monsanto Grows Green

By Mel Duvall Print this article Print

Agricultural product giant Monsanto needed to build a new data center to support analysis of information collected from labs, field trials and breeding stations around the world. Plans were sown with energy efficiency in mind. The result: a facility that

Energy efficiency is a hot topic these days, but green IT at Monsanto means more than finding servers that burn fewer watts. The St. Louis-based agricultural company is at the forefront of research into more productive and resistant seeds. By harnessing the power of technology it has been able to genetically modify seeds-including corn, cotton and soybean-so farmers can generate greater yields per acre and weather drought while using fewer herbicides and pesticides.

"We're a company focused on agriculture, but we're also a company based on technological innovation," says Monsanto CIO Mark Showers. "Every day Monsanto scientists analyze terabytes of data collected from laboratories, field trials and breeding stations around the world."

The heart of much of that research for the past 40 years has been the company's primary data center on its main campus in Creve Coeur, Mo. But with the company's storage requirements growing at an annual rate of 50 percent, the four-decade-old building was straining to maintain the reliability and availability required by contemporary standards. Built in an era long before powerful blade servers were crammed into cabinets, the data center was forced to rely on a large central cooling system to keep temperatures within acceptable ranges, as well as a number of smaller cooling units activated when the main system had problems or couldn't keep up.

In 2003, Monsanto undertook an analysis of its data center storage and processing capacity needs. Retrofitting the data center was considered, but the company decided a new building would be more cost-effective and would open new opportunities for conserving energy and improving physical security.

"Energy efficiency was on our minds right from the beginning," says Showers. "The building had to meet our business needs and be cost-effective, but we were also very conscious of how it could be done in an environmentally sensitive way."

The results of those efforts came to fruition last month, when Monsanto's IT staff was scheduled to move into the new $21 million data center over Thanksgiving weekend. The 40,000-square-foot building not only supports the company's extensive research and development efforts but serves as the hub for its business applications, from accepting customer orders over the Internet to supporting the core SAP infrastructure. Roughly 900 servers are housed in the center, providing more than 1.1 petabytes of storage. That's about the same number of servers as in the old data center, but the addition of virtualization technology means increased capacity.

The data center was built to meet specifications under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which was devised by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. LEED provides benchmarks to measure the environmental friendliness of a structure including sustainable site development, where steps are taken to preserve existing habitats, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection and indoor environmental quality. Monsanto anticipates the center will gain its LEED certification in the spring, making it the third LEED-certified center in the country. Fannie Mae opened the first LEED-certified data center, its Urbana Technology Center in Maryland, in August 2005, and insurer Highmark followed with its data center in Pennsylvania.

Achieving LEED status is difficult for power-hungry data centers, but more companies are coming on board. Data center operator 365 Main pledged this spring that all future data centers it builds will be LEED-certified. Next Page: Going With the Flow

This article was originally published on 2007-11-29
Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.

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