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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.

by Angela Miller
Well today came the unfortunate news that my web hosting service provider is going out of business. Greenesthost.com was the only entity that I could find 2 years ago focused on delivering a solar-powered, truly green hosting environment. All of the other players I researched were meeting their sustainability target through purchased carbon offsets. This seemed to me – while a positive step – far less progressive than the greenesthost model of constructing a facility powered exclusively with alternative energy.

But alas not all that is green is gold. The company stopped accepting new customers a little over a month ago, and today the letter came with the sad news that in September all lights will turn off.

I have chosen to move to AISO.net. They also now offset all of their power demand with their own solar installation. They have provided a nice analysis of their estimated reduction of carbon output based on the solar installation which was certified by the USEPA.

This was interesting to me because not only would we like to provide some analysis of what we’ll offset with our solar installation at NCTD, we would also like to investigate some consistent methology for comparing an individual ride with a public transit ride between destinations.

alternative energy, data center, green computing
Comments Off on APTA TransITech Presentation

by Angela Miller
A few months ago I wrote a post about attending an American Public Transportation Association meeting on Sustainability and how I felt out of place as the only IT person in the room.  Today I had yet another lonely experience.  I was the only person in the collection of IT professionals in public transit focused on green technology. 

I gave a presentation on how transit entities can take small steps to make incremental progress toward greening their data center.   I’m not sure that my observations could compete with the more exciting presentations like iPhone applications and Google Transit.  But I think the slide that showed how making a simple change in our desktops and monitors had actual dollar savings and a measurable reduction in our carbon footprint made some impression.

environment, green computing, hardware
Comments Off on Technology Recycling Policy

by Angela Miller
Today I finalized our official Technology/E-Waste Recycling Policy at NCTD.  I am happy about this policy for a couple of reasons.  While we have traditionally attempted to sell our surplus or retired equipment, it usually is at a loss.  The way we are required to do this is that we pay an auction company to come retrieve the equipment and sell it for us with a revenue-sharing approach.  While this would be excellent if we had items of value, most of the equipment I intend to retire really has no useful life in it.  We are going to be retiring switches and routers that are more than 10 years old, desktop computers that are 7 years old… in other words, we usually end up owing money in the auction process.

So I was happy to be able to garner agreement from the executive team for a Technology Recycling Policy.  We have put three local companies through an evaluation process to determine which offers the best combination of price, safety, security, and obviously the greenest recycling program.  Happily the managers agreed that using a company which would recycle our materials at no cost to us was not only a smarter fiscal approach, it is a more environmentally-friendly approach.

Having a formal corporate recycling policy is a wise decision no matter the size of your firm.  It is important in this process to develop a solid set of criteria for determining when equipment has reached the end of its useful life, when you might be able to trade-in for credits with your equipment manufacturer, and when it is most appropriate to recycle.  Our policy includes not only these decision criteria, but also metrics for measuring our disposal of e-waste, and a scorecard for ensuring that our vendors meet our sustainability goals.

This scorecard is an important approach because we are not interested in inappropriate disposal.  Unfortunately many companies that recycle do so by simply shipping our e-waste overseas where is poses significant problems to the third-world countries that accept it.  Instead, NCTD wants to insure that the components are broken down locally and all viable materials are separated and recycled here in the United States.  My message to other IT Managers and CIOs is to do your homework on this issue to ensure your policy is indeed a sustainable one.

Dig deeper on the issues:

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

Natural Resources Defense Council
TechNews Article
Geeks.com Article
PBS Frontline Article on Poor E-Waste Policy

greenesthost

by Angela Miller
This week the ecology.IT blog officially moved to a web hosting service that is 100% solar-powered. GreenestHost.com was featured in Ted Samson’s blog 2 weeks ago and officially came online on August 6, 2007.

A couple of things impressed me about this company:

  • They worked closely with vendors including AMD, VMWare, and Freus, to ensure they both chose the right technology and configured it appropriately for optimal energy efficiency and cooling.
  • They worked with a mature company (AISO) to develop a web-hosting service built on a solid foundation.
  • They deployed a solar environment that is self-sufficient and integrated with a battery system for use at night.

While this is not an endorsement or recommendation that everyone should switch to Greenesthost.com as a service provider, it does highlight that there is business sense in establishing and offering green computing technologies.

data center, energy consumption, green computing, hardware
Comments Off on The Economics of Green Computing: Defy the Unsustainable Consumption Model

by Angela Miller
I had a very interesting conversation with David Merrill today about one of the significant challenges that CIOs face: the economics of energy efficiency in the data center. Mr. Merrill (in my humble opinion) is a thought leader in Storage Economics, and for the last 18 months he’s been blogging about this discipline for Hitachi Data Systems*. He had some interesting tidbits regarding energy usage in data centers, the most compelling of which for me was that the typical enterprise data center now consumes 50% of the company’s electric bill and nearly 50% of that is due to storage. He backed these numbers up with studies from Gartner (March 2007) and ESG (July 2007).

Pondering these statistics lead to a conversation about the economics of energy efficiency and the business case for green computing. From Mr. Merrill’s perspective, the business case for the typical CIO would be built on cost savings from energy efficiency, cooling optimization, and from the floor space savings that could be realized from implementing a sustainable infrastructure strategy.

“CIOs typically choose energy efficiency not for moral consciousness or being chic or trendy, but because it makes economic sense”. — David Merrill

My thoughts went to challenging information technology departments to take green computing further than the straight energy costs and how instead to sell the business case for environmental benefits. His response was realistic: environmental benefits tend to be in addition to the bottom line economics, either through compliance with laws, or certification, or deferring spending on future solutions. In other words, for a CIO, environmental choices would rarely justify a business case on their own.

We talked about hybrid vehicle sales in the United States as a case study: while some individuals invested in hybrid vehicles purely as an environmental statement; the sales of hybrids, especially in states like California, really escalated when the gas prices rose substantially and drove consumers to make practical, economic choices.

In some parts of the world, especially in Europe or in densely-populated small regions like New England, Singapore, and Hong Kong for example, CIOs will start to face the reality that energy prices will drive up their IT budgets substantially. The local energy utility may either charge escalating utility rates or be unable to deliver energy to meet the company’s growing demands.

For these CIOs, the challenges of space, power, and cooling constraints drive them to consider green computing strategies to squeeze the maximum benefit from their infrastructure. So like the substantial growth in purchases of hybrid vehicles accompanied substantial increases in gasoline prices, so too will green computing initiatives likely increase as IT teams strategize to overcome their energy, space, and cooling challenges and their unsustainable consumption model.

Dig deeper on the issues:

Storage.ITworld.com article on David Merrill
*I am a former employee of HDS. This post is in no way affiliated with HDS.

environment, green computing, manufacturer
Comments Off on Green Computing hits the big time: Google’s Climate Savers Initiative

google logoby Angela Miller
Google brought more excitement to green computing this week with their announcement that they are promoting a new Climate Saver’s Initiative. This coupled with their ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship puts a stake in the ground on what corporations can do to green their information technology and their entire company operations.

Needless to say the Internet is atwitter today over this announcement. It is easy to be impressed. First of all they were able to negotiate a consortium of big name players to commit to the mission of Climate Savers: IBM, Microsoft, Dell, Intel, EDS, even the EPA and the World Wildlife Fund. They have the right balance of big-name technology vendors, government, and nonprofit to kick it off. Google already demonstrated a commitment to reach further than corporate acquisition of carbon offsets, for instance, with their construction of solar energy capacity, fleet of clean vehicles, and locally-sourced food in their corporate cafeteria. The fact that Mr. Weihl’s title on his blog is green energy czar is testimony to the seriousness with which they are approaching their greening initiatives. They have the legitimacy and power of a positive corporate brand behind it. And they have people talking, which can only be good.

Not every company will put this kind of emphasis on their environmental responsibility. But Google is an excellent example of what can be accomplished at the corporate level. They clearly have a thought-leadership position for greening of corporate operations.

For companies that want to take smaller steps, Mr. Weihl makes some great points in his post about the efficiency and optimization of current resources, for example power saving features on existing personal computers. How small steps toward optimizing current technology resources could have significant energy savings for the typical company.

Having big-named players demonstrate their commitment to the environment in such progressive and economically-justifiable ways gives me hope that other companies will see the value in taking even small steps toward greening their technology.

Dig deeper on the issues:

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

Bill Weihl’s Official Google Blog Post

ITWire
PodTech audio announcement of Climate Savers
NetworkWorld
Wall Street Journal

green computing, infrastructure, virtualization
Comments Off on Storage Economics- A discussion of the economics of virtualization from David Merrill

by Angela Miller
I thought it worth it to repost a message (with permission) from a colleague at my former company.  David Merrill from Hitachi Data Systems blogs about “Storage Economics” – a topic that is extremely important to green computing. Here’s the text of the post for your reference:

Virtualization Economics

April 14th, 2007
I attended a CSC Consulting conference this past week, and listened in on a forum on Virtualization, and the operational benefits of this approach with servers and storage. I was intrigued to hear the comparisons and differences between server virtualization (and hypervisor) and storage virtualization. Some of the talk went into how virtualization helps reduce TCO for the enterprise. I believed this statement to be true, but some of the side discussions spend a lot of time justifying these economic statements.

After the workshop, in a conversation with a CSC colleague on this topic, some key points were discussed, because people often ask me about storage virtualization economics, if and how does this technology (like the USP or NSC) really save money. Here is what I told my colleague yesterday:

  • Although an important technology, virtualization is not a direct cost impact functionality. Rather, virtualization is an enabler of other cost reduction functions
  • Virtualization requires some advanced operational and architecture capability to realize the full benefits
  • Virtualization is not free
  • There is a cross-over point (as with most technologies) where the cost to virtualize provides long-term payback from the initial investment. With very small storage environments, the cross over point may never be realized.
  • The direct cost-lowing-functions that virtualization enables are (partial listing):
    • Integrated tiered storage, with the cost benefit of the right data on the right value of storage infrastructure
    • ILM and DLM with rapid data movement and remastering
    • Single management point, with multiple storage types, technologies
    • Better asset utilization, reducing long-term CAPEX
    • Reduction of software licenses
    • Reduction of HW and SW maintenance
    • Although a better-trained SA is needed, the TB-per-FTE can be much higher
    • With better aggregate utilization, the environmental costs per unit of storage is reduced

You can see from the list above that virtualization impacts several types of storage ownership cost, many of which can be reduced when virtualization is applied at the right place with the right investment and architecture.

alternative energy, green computing
Comments Off on Green Computing: Alternative Energy Sourcing

by Angela Miller
While most IT departments would invest only in the basics of green computing based efficiency or cost savings, more advance companies will want to take their environmental initiatives further. These companies would potentially add environmental criteria to their IT projects- especially those that include purchasing new hardware where measurable, objective metrics on performance and manufacturing practice could be evaluated.

IT marketing research firm Forrester featured three analyses of green computing between April and May 2007: “Why Green IT Should Feature in Sourcing Plans” (Davis), “The Greening of IT” (Mines), and “Tapping Buyers Growing Interest in Green IT” (Mines). Each of these analyses highlighted the growing interest in green IT, and their conclusions were unsurprising—many forward-thinking, large companies placed environmental issues high on their list of corporate social responsibility initiatives; but most companies focused on Green IT as a matter of economics rather than ecology:

“We would do green because it makes business sense, not because it’s green. It would have to show cost savings.” – CIO quote to Forrester in “Tapping Buyers Growing Interest in Green IT” (Mines, May 2007, Copyright © 2007, Forrester Research, Inc.)

My previous post focus on the steps that the companies highlighted by Forrester could follow in order to meet their basic green IT needs driven by cost savings. This post takes another step down the green computing road by discussing a more advanced concept- Alternative Energy Sourcing.

Alternative Energy Sourcing

Many utilities now offer business customers the option of purchasing power which includes either a partial or 100% mix of renewable energy sources. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power now offers customers the ability to choose Green Power for a premium of $0.03 per kilowatt hour of power. The State of California specifically has incentives to encourage utilities to invest in net new renewable energy sources and the companies use the premiums to assist in investing in the new construction.

Investment in alternative energy sourcing does not have a positive financial impact for an IT department. In fact, many companies might find it a tough sell at an enterprise level to pay the significantly higher costs of a 100% alternative energy mix. For small-to-medium businesses, however, such an investment could be small and worth the minor cost increase while for larger organizations a mix of less than 100% could still provide the opportunity to take steps toward greener IT.

Companies interested in investigating alternative energy sourcing should start by reviewing the US EPA guidelines here.

data center, energy consumption, green computing, hardware, manufacturer
Comments Off on Green Computing: The Basics

by Angela Miller
With the rise of the environmental movement over the last decade, it should come as no surprise that the concept of ‘green computing’ is gathering steam. Now that vendors recognize that from a branding perspective there exists opportunity in being environmentally friendly, many companies are diving into green computing with gusto. But as vendors begin to tout their capabilities, CIOs and IT Managers may find their companies unwilling to invest in these new capabilities simply to meet the objective of being greener.

For most enterprise and small-to-medium businesses, decisions will instead be made on whether the investment presents good return-on-investment (ROI).

To build the right business case, IT decision makers must understand the basics about green computing and how this investment could both improve their corporate social responsibility and their financial bottom line. Armed with the information, implementing changes that positively impact the environment becomes the right ecological and economic decision.

This post focuses on the basic elements that most IT decision makers will find immediately palatable: energy efficiency, reduction in cooling requirements, and consolidation. Future posts will investigate more advanced green computing concepts like alternative energy sourcing, renewable energy credits, carbon offsets, and certification.

Energy Efficiency

According to Dec-2006 IDC study,

“50 cents is spent on energy for every dollar of computer hardware. This is expected to increase by 54 percent to 71 cents over the next four years.”

While many companies do not consider the facility costs as part of the ROI and total cost of ownership (TCO) for IT projects, increasing energy bills may force this issue.

Consider the analysis compiled by Dr. Janathan Koomey at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory on just the estimated server energy consumption for the United States:

“Total power used by servers represented about 0.6% of the total U.S. energy consumption in 2005. When cooling and auxiliary infrastructure are considered, that number grows to 1.2%.”

This analysis was quick to point out that it included only the servers and their required infrastructure, not storage and other IT infrastructure components. Clearly it underestimates the overall resource demand for enterprise data centers. Of greatest concern, however, was his point that electricity demand for servers doubled between 2000 and 2005. Obviously this is not a desirable or sustainable trend.

Tremendous savings could be realized by enterprise data centers if they could deploy more energy-efficient infrastructure. The economics for energy efficiency seem obvious.

Reduction in Cooling Demands

One reality of information technology is that it generates tremendous heat that requires cooling in order to ensure stability in the data center. Even the users’ desktops, laptops, and printers, generate significant heat in the typical office building that requires additional cooling. The cost of cooling are some of the most expensive, energy-intensive demands placed on facilities and significantly reducing the heat load will again result in substantial energy savings.

Consolidation

In my experience, taking a walk through a typical corporate data center never looks like the clean and homogenous picture we see in advertising. Instead, data centers I’ve seen contain a mix of server and storage types, most of which are under-utilized in the name of user performance expectations, poor retirement planning, and changing architectural directions. Almost every CIO for which I have worked has attempted the great consolidation project in the hopes of reducing the complexity and maintenance cost of the infrastructure.

Consolidation also makes good environmental sense if the equipment is chosen wisely, is more efficient than the sum of its replaced parts, is operated in a way that optimizes the energy consumption and performance, and is accompanied by a solid retirement plan for the outdated equipment.

Interestingly many consolidation projects seem to result in new equipment being introduced without the departure of the myriad of servers they were intended to replace.

Also of significant concern – the appropriate recycling and disposal of the retired equipment.

Dig deeper on the issues:

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

Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory
Wikipedia “Green Computing” definition
IDC
Gartner
David Merrill, Hitachi Data Systems blog
“Green Computing Picks up Momentum” – ComputerWorld