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data center, energy consumption, green computing, public transit, solar, sustainability
Comments Off on Press Article on NCTD IT

nctimes-millerAs much as I am not happy with the photo, I am happy that the North County Times decided to feature my team in an article today.  The focus is on our sustainability and technology programs.  Thanks to Paul Sisson for the kind words.

 

In the background is our new solar installation at the Buena Creek SPRINTER station.  This is an exciting new technology by Uni-Solar called “photovoltaic laminate”.  Basically it is a flexible solar membrane-like material that can be glued down to the supporting structure.  It is highly durable – used by the military in harsh installation conditions.  It is not as efficient per square foot as other technologies, but we chose it to prove that solar can be installed in some pretty challenging environments.  You can read about the material here:  uni-solar_laminate.

Photo courtesy NCTimes.com taken by Hayne Palmour IV

energy consumption, environment, solar, sustainability
Comments Off on SPRINTER Solar Goes Live

I am happy to say that after many challenges, we were able to turn on the SPRINTER solar system today.This system was funded by the ARRA Transit Investments in Greenhouse Gas Reductions (TIGGER) grant.  It is approximately 225 kw, and should offset almost 30% of the power needs for the facility – which is a good thing as the SPRINTER Maintenance facility draws more power than any other site at NCTD.

 

This project ran into many complications, not the least of which was the need to repair the facility roof.  We could have made the decision to compromise on the quantity of panels at the facility, but I think we made the right choice to go ahead and fix a facility that is a mission-critical site for the agency.

 

We also faced the significant challenge of putting panels in an area that is designated as a bioswale for retention of water and prevention of nonpoint source pollution runoff.  In order to protect that purpose, we  had to replace the irrigation system and all of the vegetation with something more suitable to the new environmental conditions.  The added benefit is that is allows us to cut our water consumption by over 25% at the site.

 

I want to say a big thank you to Dan Harding and Seth Worden at Transit America, and to Josh Beeson at Martifer Solar.

data center, energy consumption, infrastructure, manufacturer
Comments Off on Observations about the LEED Process

The LEED saga continues.  I’ve mentioned some of the challenges that we’ve faced, but today presented another interesting one.  I assumed because our purchasing specifications included statements like “systems that comply with the US EPA Energy Star requirements” that we would qualify for the Energy Star points on the LEED rating system.  Today, I learned how naive I am.  In fact, while several vendors have machines that in fact to have an EPA stamp of Energy Star compliance, they are few and far between right now.

 

Energy Star was a program started initially around residential power use.  As a result, most items that have the Energy Star seal are appliances or electronics in the consumer space.  A check of the EPA website shows fewer than 15 enterprise, server class machines that qualify for the rating.  So while many vendors state that they have Energy Star-compliant equipment, they do not in fact have too many machines that actually went through and successfully completed the process.

 

Let’s compare some from my data center as examples.  We run an HP shop (this is not an endorsement of their product or a sales pitch, just disclosure that we have them as an architectural standard).  So I have a wide variety of their equipment.  For our Microsoft Exchange upgrade, we installed Energy Star certified HP Proliant DL380 G6 rack-optimized servers.  These are currently the only series of HP machines that have the seal.  For most of my purchasing, however, I prefer HP BL460c G6 or HP BL680c G6 machines that slot into a blade chassis.  What is nice about blades is that they share components like power supplies and fans.  So this reduces the power pull, and reduces the amount of waste in the product.  So from a product life cycle perspective, they are a better choice.

 

In spite of our choice to generally rely on the more energy-efficient and therefore more eco-friendly choice of the blade servers, we actually cannot claim the LEED energy star credit because these servers are merely “EnergyStar Compliant” instead of certified.  This is needless-t0-say an unfortunate outcome as we are inching closer to a possible Gold certification and any point that we miss now keeps us from that nearly impossible goal.

data center, energy consumption, green computing, sustainability
Comments Off on APTA Presentation on Building a Sustainable Data Center

I’ve uploaded my APTA presentation about building a sustainable data center to slideshare if anyone is interested.  Clearly NCTD is a pioneer in the transit industry, even if building a sustainable data center is cliche in other industries.  Not one participant in the room had added sustainability as a design criteria when building their data centers.  We’ll see if I made any impression with the community on this issue.

alternative energy, energy consumption, public transit
Comments Off on NCTD wins Stimulus Green Transit Solar Grant

by Angela Miller
I am very excited to say that yesterday we heard through a press release that we were one of the Public Transit entities chosen by the US Department of Transportation to receive part of the funding from the green transit portion of the stimulus program.  One of the hats I am happy to wear at the District is that of leading the Sustainability program for the District.  I’ve previously blogged about attending some of the APTA Sustainability meetings, and on our desire to create a plan for the District.  But this is the largest sustainability project I’ve been able to facilitate since my arrival at the District.

This grant will allow the District to build on its basic commitment to the three elements of sustainability:  economic, social, and environmental.  We were awarded $2 million to build on our plan by investing in more innovative solar power installations at the District, and in to install plug-in vehicle charging stations at some of our rail parking facilities for our customers. 

The application process was highly competitive, with only $100 million available for Green Transit initiatives across the entire United States.  My organization was one of 43 entities receiving the funding, and received one of the largest awards in acknowledgement of the business case and ROI analysis put forth.  The project includes:

  • Demonstrating the feasibility of deploying solar technology in the Rail right-of-way, thus leveraging space that cannot be utilized for other purposes.  Makes idle property more productive and possibly revenue-generating
  • We will also be installing solar at maintenance and administrative facilities to offset power needs at those locations.
  • Deploying parking spaces with charging units for plug-in vehicles as a value to our customers.
  • Installing solar carports at some parking lots to both provide power and provide better parking options to our customers. 

This grant award is part of an overall commitment to sustainability that includes other steps like an energy-efficient data center, replacing parking lot lights with more efficient options, the creation of a new Compressed Natural Gas fueling station, our approach to transit-oriented design for transit centers and stations, the use of solar along the COASTER right-of-way to power our wireless security system, the replacement of older buses with CNG-powered vehicles, paratransit, and our commitment to being a long-term sustainability partner with the communities we serve.

data center, energy consumption, green computing, hardware, infrastructure
Comments Off on Data Center Redesign Kickoff

by Angela Miller
On Friday we kicked off the data center project at NCTD, and rarely have I been so excited about the probable success of a project.  Our vendors are Roel Construction (Rob Netzer) and Logicalis (Bob Mobach).  We were lucky to find vendors that have such competency and experience in data center design, and specifically in the requirements for attaining LEED certification.

This is a large undertaking for a small entity like NCTD.  While I can justify the project purely on the long-term anticipated Return-on-Investment, the deal was sweetened by meeting all of the requirements for the Federal Stimulus program.

The overall project has several elements that will hopefully qualify it for LEED certification, including:

  • The anticipated reduction in power demand and increase in power utilization efficiency in the facility
  • The re-use of the building, and materials within the facility for the project (for example, we are supplementing our green fire system instead of replacing it, we’re going to reuse doors instead of purchasing new ones, etc.
  • The ability to reset the ambient temperature of the data center much higher – we expect to set it around 80 degrees instead of the 68 we maintain today
  • The installation of over 220 Kw solar system onsite to more than offset the power draw of the data center
  • The use of in-line cooling instead of the two air handling units currently in the room (these will be recycled for other purposes in the District)

In addition, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the District has been committed over the last two years to slowly introducing greener, more sustainable approaches to our information technology infrastructure, including virtualization and consolidation, switching to blade server technology, replacing older equipment with more energy-efficient equipment, and testing desktop virtualization.

All of these steps make solid financial sense for the District – an especially important consideration given the tight financial times we are currently facing.  I could not in good conscience recommend these investments if I could not show solid ROI for our troubles.  While we want to be an agency with a priority on sustainability as part of our mission, it is logical that we could not choose to make these investments if they required a corresponding reduction in service or positions at the District.  Instead, choosing to follow the more sustainable path will realize direct operating cost savings on a monthly basis for the District.

We of course face some challenges to our ambitious timeline.  One of those challenges is the delay of a system migration project by 90 days after its anticipated completion.  This project is attempting to move our Prime System applications (installed in 1986) from a minicomputer to a client-server web interface.  We cannot risk downtime on this environment and therefore out-of-the gate may see a 90-day delay.  But every IT project faces challenges, and I am confident the team will find an approach that gives us what we need.

Over the next several weeks I will be blogging about the adventures of upgrading our data center.  Hopefully in March I will be able to say that we’ve completed the work and that we are on track with our ROI.

alternative energy, carbon offset, data center, energy consumption
Comments Off on IT Department to Offset Power with Solar Installation

by Angela Miller
Today we inked the deal that was two-years in the making:  we are officially installing solar panels at our administrative offices.  The intent is to at least offset the estimated power demands of the data center over the next 10 years of anticipated growth.  In speaking with various solar vendors, and with our data center installation firm, we feel this is an achievable goal.

With the incentives still offered at the federal and state level, and working with our local utility company SDG&E, the business case for solar is a viable one.  In a time when my agency – like so many across the State of California – is facing dramatic pressures on our operating budget, any capital investment that potentially decreases monthly operating expenses deserves a serious look. 

We have two phases of this plan – we’ll install solar panels on the roof of the building, which turns out to be an ideal location.  Not every building meets our criteria – we have significant open space, our roof was repaired recently with a material that is reflective, and our utility sheds are relatively short.  These design elements make our roof highly suitable for a solar installation.

The second phase of our project will install carport solar panels in our public parking lot.  Our existing lot was designed at a time when there were fewer requirements for heat dissipation.  Our black asphalt parking lot gets quite hot during most months, and installation of solar panels will mitigate some of this problem.  We are also making good use of otherwise non-revenue generating space.

This project is a stimulus project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  There is significant pressure on governmental entities to use this money responsibly, transparently, and according to the terms of the intent of the act.  I believe this project meets all of the objectives of the program:  it is a shovel-ready construction project, a long-term capital improvement, beneficially changes the operations of public transit in the community, installs technology that decreases operating costs, provides jobs during the project, invests in green technology, and completes in a timely fashion to stimulate the local economy.

While the solar projects added cost to our data center redesign project, the investment had a solid business case, with a six-year payback period.  An additional consideration was the increasing carbon footprint of the technology resources at the District.  This investment not only pays off from a fiscal perspective, but also an environmental one.

My message to IT people is to think bigger than our data centers.  We have the opportunity to improve our company’s bottom line not only through our core IT investments, but also in how we choose to construct and improve the buildings that house that technology.  Work with your facility managers to become more creative in solving data center problems.

data center, energy consumption, infrastructure
Comments Off on The Jet Engines in the Data Center.

blowersby Angela Miller
I tend to assume that IT people (like me) have a fabulous sense of hyperbole. We toss around words like “disaster” and “outage” and “negative business impacts” effortlessly. And many IT Managers panic when we are less than say 97% perfect. We have a sense of the dramatic.

So I figure people might take umbrage with my characterization of my data center ‘blower problems.’ Perhaps you think I am again exaggerating. The picture on the left should correct this.

When I say blowers in my data center, I mean just that – a line of 6 vents resembling aircraft engines pointed different directions in the room. People who enter this room do so at their own risk, especially when the blowers are churning at full speed. Smaller people on the team probably should have carabiners and safety lines.

Since my arrival at NCTD, this device has been one of the more discussed items on the team. All kidding aside, this is not the right solution for a data center. Admitedly, we were in a crisis mode when this modification was made. And nothing against the people who chose to install these, because frankly we would be in far worse shape had they not done so. This installation bought us a year … maybe two.

In my mind, this is a good example of the dilemma facing many SMB entities in their data centers — how do we evolve to deal with our ever-increasing energy, cooling, and storage demands? How do we make upgrades to our facilities in a way that meets the burgeoning needs? And should sustainability be a consideration in our design choices.

One thing is certain – choosing the wrong solution is far from sustainable and misses our return on investment. In our case, we are now facing not only cooling problems since the air flow with this device does not address the hot spot problems in the room, but also humidity issues, and power issues since we’ve used almost all the rest of the power in the room on these air handling units. On the plus side, if I installed a wind turbine in the room I could probably dramatically improve my Power Utilization Effectiveness.

Over the next several weeks we’ll look at some of the options we’ll have to choose from in implementing a different approach to the cooling needs. Will we be able to choose a green option given our budget constraints? Stay tuned…

data center, energy consumption, hardware, manufacturer
Comments Off on AMD Runs with the Green Bulls: New Barcelona Chip Delivers on Power Saving Promises

by Angela Miller
The Internet and press are atwitter this week with the announcement of AMD’s new Barcelona quad-core chip. The chip, also known as the Opteron 64, delivers something the competitors did not: a native quad-core design that allows for sophisticated power management. According to the testing I’ve reviewed, the chip delivers up to twice the performance of the duo-core processors but uses the same amount of power.

The design element which differentiates this chip is its native quad-core design which allows each core to be utilized and managed independently. This is a strong design element from the power-management perspective: in the duo-core paired design, the paired cores generally run at the same power level. So if one core is at 75% power so is the other no matter what the processing requirement. In the native quad-core design, the power requirements of each core are managed independently. This simple design change delivers significant power savings.

While some reviewers are saying that AMD is very late to the quad-core game, I believe their design philosophy and the significant power savings prove worth the wait. In addition to the native power savings this chip provides, the sophisticated tools for server virtualization are very strong. Strong enough that Rackspace Managed Hosting decided to deploy the chip after rigorous testing throughout their hosted data center.

We should see over the next several weeks testing centers putting this chip through the paces versus other competitive offerings. I look forward to seeing what the guys at Tom’s Hardware have to say toward validating the performance statements from AMD’s marketing department.

Dig deeper on the issues:

I relied on the following sites for analysis in support of this post:

AMD
TechTarget
CIO
Sustainable IT Blog

data center, energy consumption, virtualization
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by Angela Miller
With the focus ever increasing on energy efficiency in the data center, the topic of virtualization takes center stage for many organizations. Both the performance of the newly-launched VMWare stock on the New York Stock Exchange (from around $29 at IPO to almost $68 today) and Microsoft’s impending push into the virtualization arena demonstrate that virtualization will be a hot topic over the next year.

But the benefits of virtualization are not limited to large data centers, and many organizations miss out on the energy efficiency and cooling benefits of deploying virtualization even in their small IT shop.

According to Gartner, server virtualization is just entering the peak of the hype cycle and it is 2-5 years from “mainstream adoption.”  This means that over the next couple of years, IT managers will watch as over 50 vendors vie for marketshare in this re-energized space.

Ironically, virtualization is a mature discipline with over 30 years of history in the IT world. It was a key component of any mainframe deployment as early as the 1970s. But with the proliferation of servers and storage devices and burgeoning IT data centers, virtualization has come around again as a way to more effectively utilize the IT resource.

The impact of virtualization on the environment may not be immediately obvious. But think of it this way: in a company where the trend is for users to specify they must have servers dedicated to their function, virtualization is a way to segment pieces of the IT infrastructure to provide those dedicated services without requiring the purchase of separate machines. One powerful server can be segmented into dedicated, non-overlapping functions.

This is a powerful utility, especially when you consider that according to various studies the average usage on a dedicated, stand-alone, functional server is less than 10%.

Virtualization comes in many flavors, from server virtualization through hardware and software, to storage virtualization, to the ability to combine many machines into one virtual device.

Server Virtualization

Server virtualization is either hardware, software, or processor-based. In a hardware scenario, software like VMWare is installed at an operating system layer and allows emulation. Emulation simply means that a server running Linux for example could also run Microsoft Windows inside of a window within Linux. The basic idea behind this virtualization is that the intermediate software intercepts calls from the emulation window and translates those calls into the underlying operating system to pass to the hardware. The virtualization tool simply serves as a translator between the different environments.

There are many reasons to do this, even at a desktop level. For instance, if you are a small business and you have chosen Apple as your platform, you can install tools to allow you to still run Microsoft Windows within a window on the Apple platform.   A small business might do this when they are required to use a particular Windows-based tool to interact with a client and do not wish to procure a new machine. From an environmental perspective, emulation allows companies large and small to run multiple operating systems without requiring acquisition of additional hardware.

The second approach to virtualization is to segment the device into multiple operating systems and allowing these environments to operate independently and simultaneously on one device. In this scenario, the server would run both Linux and Windows at the same time and there would be no conversation between the operating environments – each would make calls to the hardware separately and natively. This approach grew more popular with the release of blade type servers by companies like IBM, HP, Dell and Sun.

Blade servers are quite effective in the data center from an environmental perspective. They are typically stripped of redundant components like power supplies. They are compact and have a small impact on the data center physical footprint. And they are efficient because many servers share so many components. Less waste, less energy, less real estate … all good things from an environmental perspective. (One potential downfall of a densely-populated blade server environment is cooling cost. We’ll cover this in a separate post.)

At the component level, some processors by Intel and AMD now come with native functionality to support virtualization. With newer multi-core, multi-threaded processors, the processor can deliver on the virtualization promise by increasing performance by 3-5 times within one processor (according to IDC). Given the heat generation of the processor, the ability to minimize the number of required processors is highly desirable from an environmental perspective.

Server virtualization clearly delivers significant energy savings to companies that can consolidate their environment effectively.

Storage Virtualization

Like server virtualization, storage virtualization comes in many flavors and tends to be far more complex. The primary theories on storage virtualization are appliance-based, switch-based, and storage-controller based. All three approaches basically rely on mapping tables to route application requests between a virtual location and a physical location on the disk. Without detailing the specifics in each scenario, the bottom line on storage virtualization is that it allows large data centers the ability to deploy very large, disk-dense devices that again are far more efficient than a distributed set of independent devices.

So to build on the blade server discussion: deploying many stand-alone servers each with their own disk storage that is minimally utilized is far less efficient than installing blade servers without any native storage and then linking them to a large storage array or network as a separate, optimized device.

From an environmental perspective, one can argue which architectural approach to storage virtualization is more efficient, but the use of storage virtualization in any context is far more energy, cooling, and footprint efficient for the enterprise data center.

Conclusion

Server and storage virtualization should be key components to any green IT strategy. Both deliver significant energy and cooling cost savings to the enterprise and SMB through consolidation of resources.

Dig deeper on the issues:

I relied on the following sites for analysis in support of this post:

Vmware
Gartner
IBM
Dell
AMD
Intel
Sun
IDC
ESG
Wikipedia