Cost and Image Imperatives

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Return on investment is a key measure of Green IT's success. Energy prices, a recession and evolving public attitudes have altered the way businesses view energy-efficient technology. Savvy enterprises now recognize the benefits of going green.

A few years ago, the idea of going green seemed best relegated to companies with an eco-friendly reputation. In many cases, major investments in energy-efficient systems seemed like an expensive and time-consuming diversion. 

Times change. As the economy tanked and energy prices spiked, perceptions began to shift. “Even companies that were not the least bit eco-conscious a couple of years ago now understand that they must adopt green measures,” Singh continues. 

The primary drivers? Cost savings, corporate image and marketing, and an understanding that it’s good to be on the right side of an important issue. “Social responsibility isn’t a one-and-done issue any longer,” PlanNet's Davis says.

The drive toward energy-efficient IT is occurring none too soon. Demand for power is skyrocketing. Today, a typical data center draws somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 to 2 megawatts at any given instant. 

Disturbingly, analysts and energy experts predict that within five years, a data center’s peak electrical draw could rise to between 10 and 20 megawatts—unless enterprises take more drastic steps to trim consumption. A reduction in energy of 1 kilowatt per hour translates into savings of between $8 million and $17 million a year.

Developing Benchmarks

UPS understands those statistics very well. It began examining energy usage in the summer of 2006 and developed benchmarks to guide a green initiative. “Previously, data center issues revolved around capacity and reliability,” Parrino says. “Energy footprint wasn’t a consideration.”
To correct that, he created a spreadsheet and began comparing the company’s energy consumption stats with data from the Uptime Institute and other sources. “For the first time, we were able to home in on key issues,” he says.

Parrino and his staff then set their sights on making improvements to the data center building, which is one of the nation’s largest. The first step: improve the efficiency of a heat exchange pump that the company had installed in 2000. 

UPS had previously used the pump only about three months a year. However, by retrofitting chilled water pipes and optimizing the flow of water through a plate heat exchanger, it has been able to use the heat exchange pump up to six months per year.

The modifications have allowed UPS to shut down a 400-kilowatt chiller for about half the year, Parrino says. That equates to 1.75 million kilowatt hours annually—or roughly 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide. 

Though the system cost about $100,000 to install, the initial dollar savings exceeded that amount. “We have since paid for the device many times over, and we will continue to reap the benefits of it for years to come,” he says.
And UPS didn’t stop there. It reconfigured the spacing of server racks and other equipment. Parrino focused heavily on problems revolving around hot aisle/cold aisle configurations, blanking panels, airflow patterns, cable positioning and rack tiles. 

For example, he found that power distribution units (PDUs) were leaking approximately 2,000 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air through perforated tops. “They didn’t need the amount of air they were receiving,” Parrino says. “By covering them up, we were able to shut off computer
air handlers.”

Finally, UPS raised the floor in its uninterruptible power supply room. This allowed the company to shut off 28 of the 65 air handlers installed in 1995—and trim another 1.8 million kilowatts per year of energy. It also raised the data center temperature to the upper 70s and installed systems to closely monitor airflow patterns. 

Factor in a server virtualization initiative that’s growing at a robust 20 percent to 30 percent annual rate and a move to more-efficient Energy Star-compliant servers and systems, and UPS has established itself as a green leader.

This article was originally published on 2010-08-13
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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