hardware, infrastructure, public transit
Comments Off on No good deed goes unpunished…

A few weeks ago I wrote an update about our new Wi-Fi service onboard the COASTER Commuter Rail.  Less than 6 weeks later, negative press:  North County Times: WiFi Connections unsteady on Amtrak, Coaster.


This is not really a surprise.  I mentioned in the last post that this is a cellular technology provided by T-Mobile, and that cellular is imperfect.  I also talked about the original approach to the service versus what was pushed into production.  This is an example of how sometimes less is more – higher density in fewer cars rather than low density in all cars would have resulted in a better experience for a smaller number of customers.


Time for a new business case analysis…

hardware, infrastructure, public transit
Comments Off on Wi-Fi Service on Commuter Rail

I am very excited to say that we are finally implementing Wi-Fi service on our COASTER Commuter Rail.  This was a very difficult and plagued project.  We tried three different approaches to implementing this service over the last 5 years, two of which resulted in vendors walking away from the project.


T-Mobile is the solution provider.  Our original proposal was to implement Wi-Fi only on one car per train so that we could ensure that it provided dependable service.  We really do not have a business case to charge the customer for this service – instead it is viewed as a customer amenity, and I have to absorb the cost into our internal IT Budget.  I stand by this approach, but it was decided that we should try to cover as many cars as possible.


This is actually a difficult service to provide in our area because the train travels at more than 70 miles per hour through some isolated terrain.  All of the cellular vendors have black zones where they drop service, but T-Mobile’s solution seems the best.


One might wonder why we are going to this expense and trouble when so many people have data plans and smartphones already.  The reason is that this is the number 1 customer request from our highest dollar customers.  So we’re making it happen.

data center, green computing, hardware, infrastructure, public transit, security, software
Comments Off on NCTD IT Named ComputerWorld Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2012

We were very excited to hear today that the NCTD IT team was named as a Premier 100 IT Leader for 2012.  I say the team because while the award is for the CIO, clearly it is the work of the team that merits the recognition.  What is amazing is that our team is standing in the presence of so many other great company names:  Lenovo, Kraft, Mazda, GlaxoSmithKline, Target, Blue Cross, the State of Colorado, Waste Management, Kaiser Permanente, Vanguard, CapitalOne, Intel, Boeing… what?  NCTD is in this crowd??


Yes.  We.  Are.  That’s how we roll.

data center, green computing, hardware, infrastructure
Comments Off on Data Center Project Pays Off

Today the data center project paid off big time. Yes, for those in Southern California it was a near disaster- we had an extensive power outage that reached from Mexico to Los Angeles, and from San Diego to Arizona.


The good news for my team- the data center stayed up 100% of the time. In fact, we lost only 1 rail communications cabinet during 10 hours of an outage.


This means that our phones were up, even when cell phones were not. Our Internet was online and we could communicate with our customers. Our emergency operations center (EOC) was live and effective. I was proud to see NCTD keep bus and rail service in play hours into an outage that was so significant for the region.


More than anything, I know that without the data center project, we would not have achieved this success.


Not everything was smooth and I don’t want to overstate the positives… but I am confident without our green data center, our EOC team would have struggled that much more. So here is to investment in technology and the ability to see a ROI.

data center, hardware, infrastructure
Comments Off on The generator part 2

I spoke today with Bob Mobach – one of my technology gurus at Logicalis – about my concerns about the non-green generator.  After much discussion and research, we have again validated our decision to move forward with the generator.  He had some excellent insights about why we are in this position, and when some of the alternative technologies are more appropriate.


NCTD requires a high-availability environment now.  There is no getting around the fact that we run important, mission-critical systems on our infrastructure, and as such we can no longer afford to have unexpected and unplanned outages.  To meet this basic requirement, we must have the capability of creating power on-demand, nearly instantaneously should our power fail.  There simply are few choices on the market today to address this need for a facility of our size.


We could have taken the approach that we would provide our own ‘co-lo’ power via a set of natural gas generators.  This scenario would have allowed us to failover to SDG&E power should the natural gas units fail.  This option does not really make sense for our data center because firstly we’ve invested in solar pv power to offset the power demands, and secondly because our data center power draw is really too small to make this economical.  So from a business case, this is a poor choice for our scenario.


Another option was the fuel-cell based UPS.  The problem with this approach is simply the cost and the durability of the power.  We have had now two outages this year over 6 hours in duration.  There is simply no way we could sustain the entire data center on the fuel cells for this long.  And again, the business case is not there.


We are now investigating alternative fuel sources for the Kohler generator – either ‘clean diesel’ or biofuels.  While the biodiesel seems like a natural choice, the biggest issue is the long-term storage of the fuel.  Fuel that sits around for months can degrade due to algae or condensation.  Research indicates that not many entities are yet using biodiesel as their fuel choice for standby scenarios where the generator is not going to be used frequently.  So my next step is to contact the manufacturer to determine whether a biodiesel mix is appropriate in the generator, and what they would believe the ideal mix to contain.  We will then compare this to the emissions, performance, and price of ‘clean diesel.’


So while I am still not 100% reconciled that installing a generator is moving us in the right direction for a green data center, I am convinced that we’ve made the business decision which balances our environmental needs with our business realities.

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.

hardware, infrastructure
Comments Off on Testing Desktop Virtualization

by Angela Miller
Today we kicked off our desktop virtualization test at NCTD.  I have a few reasons for wanting to look at virtualization – the first is that the workspaces for some of our users are too crowded and we would like to provide them more space within their constraints without requiring a larger footprint on their desk.  This would keep us from needing to expand the offices into additional spaces. 

The second compelling reason is to try to extend the lifetime of some of our desktop investment.  I previously discussed my choice to upgrade user machines with memory and larger hard disks in an attempt to get at least 2 more years out of the machines.  My hope is that desktop virtualization will allow us to contemplate an operating system upgrade without needing to replace every machine at the office.

Our test environment consists of an HPBlade 460, 3 small HP thin clients, 1 HP 6910p laptop, and 2 HP 5100dct desktops.  We acquired a VMWare VDI bundle for a relatively small investment and will run our test with these tools.  Our plan is to test a variety of elements:  stability of the desktop environment, ease of deploying new desktops, the performance of the desktops with a variety of virtual server builds, and performance on the different types of hardware.

We will also be analyzing and researching the power requirements for each of these scenarios.  Our hope is that we might see a reduced power requirement even on the older hardware because the server will be doing the ‘heavy lifting’ on the desktop.

After our test, I’ll post the different results we see, including an analysis of whether pursuing a desktop virtualization strategy is ‘greener’ than continuing with our current approach.

Dig deeper on the issues:

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

Virtual Strategy Magazine

Infoworld Article

VMWare Green Marketing

hardware, sustainability
Comments Off on How Geeky is This?

by Angela Miller
Apologies while I divert for a moment and show off one of my green-geek-toys:  my completely ridiculous electric bicycle.  This may seem a strange investment for someone who already owns a hybrid car and has a mere 15 miles to commute to the office. 

I completely embrace the fact that this is as my son says “gooby”.  I had grandiose plans of riding my regular bicycle either to the train station or all the way to the office, but after a couple of aborted trials I am free to admit that I am simply too out of shape for such folly.

But this bicycle makes me laugh as I ride.  My neighborhood is very hilly, but a little crank on my throttle and the little electric motor helps me to easily reach the tops of the hills.  And it folds – it folds!  It has been a great conversation starter on the train as it definitely looks different than your regular bike.

So while I am not likely to ride this everyday like a good eco-junkie would, I do think I’ll use it a couple of times a week down to my local SPRINTER light rail station.

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 Article
PBS Frontline Article on Poor E-Waste Policy

Comments Off on Small Steps: LCD Panels

by Angela Miller
Today we’re taking a small step at NCTD:  we are initiating a project to replace 150 CRT monitors with LCD monitors.  I performed a business case assessment on these LCDs and determined that based on energy savings I would have a less than 3 year payback period for these monitors.  The private sector might not see such an advantageous ROI, but our government pricing for the monitors, especially given that we purchased 150 at one time, was extremely preferential and helped bolster the financial analysis.

Based on this project, I’ve now added some energy star and energy demand purchasing requirements to my standard specifications.  Taking this small step will not increase my company’s expenses significantly, but should prevent us from acquiring technology that doesn’t fit in with my architectural statement to purchase lower energy components where possible. 

For example, I previously did not include a specific power requirement as part of my specification for some display panels I purchased for our board room, and unfortunately not including this resulted in a lower bid on plasma panels instead of LCD.  Plasma panels will cost us more in operating costs over time than the LCDs just based on the power draw.  So not including power as a specification in the purchasing process can lead to higher total cost of ownership – a mistake I will not repeat.

Small steps can lead to wiser decisions, cost savings, and greener IT.

Dig deeper on the issues:

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

Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Report on Energy Usage