Informal group to encourage idea exchange on best practices, lessons learned and solutions for improved electronic stewardship at facilities in government facilities and elsewhere.
Green IT commentary
September 15, 2010 at 9:39 am #110798
From Forbes.com blogs
Why CIOs Should See Their Power Bills
Robin Johnson 09.10.10, 6:00 AM ET
ROUND ROCK, TEXAS –
The obvious first step for reducing any organization’s energy use is to measure it and find ways to lower it. So why is it that the overwhelming majority of CIOs–owners of their companies’ information technology infrastructure and consumers of huge amounts of energy–never see a power bill?
As ludicrous as that sounds, it’s quite common. The power bill goes to the facilities team. It’s particularly unfortunate when you consider that at a large company, technology can consume as much as 40% or more of the power used.
Thankfully it’s a problem that’s easy and affordable to begin to tackle. Connecting the IT and facilities departments in any organization, from businesses to governments, can slash power usage and increase efficiency with something as simple as using a few electric meters. In Dell’s case, we managed to add 35% more computing capacity without using one additional watt.
Once the CIO knows how much power all those machines and their related cooling systems are consuming, it’s hard not to find ways to be more efficient. For example, a server in one location is running a particular software program, has plenty of unused capacity and is burning electricity. Across the room, there’s another server doing the very same thing. Introduce virtualization software, which lets one machine do the work of many, and you’re immediately saving power and money while minimizing the environmental impact.
Now imagine a data center filled with server racks. They take cool air in through the front and blow hot air out the back. In an organization in which the CIO doesn’t see a power bill, the data center isn’t necessarily arranged for energy efficiency. You might have two server racks facing front-to-back, mixing hot and cold air and lowering the efficiency of the cooling process. In fact, most data centers are run far too cold–10 or 15 degrees cooler than necessary–just to keep a few hot spots from overheating. By rearranging your data center to keep the hot air hot and the cold air cold, you can reduce power bills and improve system efficiencies by 20% or more.
Simple solutions like this help minimize a company’s environmental footprint. But this isn’t green for green’s sake. Most organizations need to think harder about their IT power use just to cope with the explosion of data in this digital era. Even if you could spend unlimited money on power and equipment for your data centers, the power grid where your facilities reside might not be able to provide any more juice–or you could simply run out of physical space in your data center.
That’s what happened to us at Dell two years ago. We hit the space limit on our data centers in Austin. We had two options: build another data center, or squeeze more computing power out of our existing facilities using the same amount of energy. The difference between the two options in both expense and environmental impact was enormous. After all, the greenest data center is the one you never build. Through smart IT planning, we’ve postponed indefinitely the need for a new data center, avoiding some $250 million in costs.
Think of the implications for taxpayers if government agencies linked their IT strategies to their power use and embraced the opportunities green IT holds. Every time a government agency issues a purchase order for hardware or software that isn’t rationalized for its power use, taxpayers pay the bill. As with a data center on a grid that can’t supply any more energy, public departments can’t get any more tax dollars; they can only get more computing for the dollars already in their budgets.
At Dell we began thinking this way more than two years ago. The investment for organizations that want to do the same is relatively minimal and pays off quickly. The first step is to have power monitoring in the right places. Additional power monitoring is not expensive and is readily available. Second, look at the physical configuration of your data center. At Dell we’ve found that we can help cool our Austin data centers by drawing in ambient air from outdoors, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Finally, make your future hardware and software purchases based on power efficiency and look for ways to take advantage of virtual computing to increase the efficiency of existing IT investments. Replacing existing hardware and introducing virtualization software can multiply your capacity by a factor of five or greater in the same power envelope.
The savings from even incremental changes will be significant and immediate, but not if you overlook the key component to any organizational shift: responsibility. It’s great to show your CIO the power bill, but if he or she isn’t invested with the authority and responsibility for lowering it, it’s just another slip of paper.
Robin Johnson is chief information officer at Dell.
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