Powering Ahead

By Brian P. Watson Print this article Print

Wells Fargo discovered several power-saving innovations that, with the help of good timing, are saving money and decreasing energy usage in two new data centers.

Powering Ahead

Now the firm is aiming to construct a LEED-certified data center about 12 miles from Tempe. (LEED, leadership in energy and environmental design, was devised by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council as a set of benchmarks to measure a structure's environmental friendliness. The council rates buildings based on sustainability, water efficiency and other factors.)

But it won't be easy, Culver concedes. "That's very difficult to achieve with data centers because they do consume so much energy," he says.

Culver plans to rely on dynamic power management features from Hewlett-Packard. The software, which comes with HP's ProLiant servers, lets administrators shut off power in semiconductor chips until it's needed. Culver says Wells Fargo will begin piloting the tool in the coming months.

The company will also have to contend with higher material prices than it encountered while building its data centers in Minneapolis and Tempe. Culver wouldn't reveal the exact price tag for the facilities, but he said Minneapolis cost less than $100 million, while Tempe came in "well under" that.

Then, copper—an essential component of data center wire and cable—was selling for about $.70 per pound. Now, Culver is looking at prices around $3.50 per pound. On top of that, the Environmental Protection Agency has sunsetted older power generators as it has established new emissions standards.

Manufacturers are ramping up production, but purchase costs have increased.

To build the Minneapolis or Tempe facilities today, Culver says, costs would exceed $100 million. He's aiming to keep expenses for the new Tempe data center less than or around $100 million.

To accommodate heavy transaction volumes, financial institutions are constantly updating and renovating their data centers. In planning, power consumption and costs have become a higher priority for these firms. But for Culver—as well as many of Wells Fargo's competitors—other concerns come first.

Protecting sensitive customer data is the top priority, Culver says. Next comes availability.

"You tackle the purpose at hand, and design something that has security and can be available," he says. "Then you talk about making it most efficient: How can I save energy on mechanical and electrical systems?"

Wells Fargo also plans to expand its virtualization projects. But that will require overcoming cultural obstacles, according to Culver. More than two years ago, the company invested in VMware's ESX Server, a hypervisor-based virtualization software tool that provides automatic failover and live backups. As of second quarter 2007, Wells Fargo had virtualized almost 500 servers.

Still, the virtualization initiatives were slow to take hold. The biggest problems, Culver says: Some lines of business didn't want to share equipment with others. Overcoming that is no easy task, because Wells Fargo has hundreds of business lines organized into 10 or more groups.

Culver says the company also plans to explore more green techniques, though he's concerned about payback. An experiment with a solar array on the roof of the Tempe facility is under way, for instance; Culver is not entirely sure about the potential return, he says, but this is a low-cost investment worth trying. Other eco-friendly features such as motiondetector lighting and variable-speed fans also cost little but can yield significant returns.

Before considering any other new tools or techniques, according to Culver, Wells Fargo will examine the potential return on investment. "If someone says the incremental cost of a project is $5 million and the return is 23 years, we're not going to do it," he says. "It's still a financially driven motivator for us."

Wells Fargo At a Glance

420 Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA 94163

(866) 878-5865

Offers a range of financial services, including consumer and corporate banking, insurance, investments and mortgages

Senior Vice President, Technology Information Group:
Bob Culver

Financials in 2006:
$48 billion in revenue; $8.5 billion in profit

Plan and build two new high-density data centers without increasing energy expenditures on the company's other facilities.

This article was originally published on 2007-10-29
Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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