Maurice Brown deployed a UPS and in-row cooling to consolidate the city of North Chicago’s wiring closets.
Oct 13 2011

Public Sector Improves Efficiency with Data Center Consolidation

Intelligent power management, consolidation and server virtualization pay dividends to the environment and the bottom line.

When it comes to reducing power consumption and operating data centers more efficiently, the public sector is on the leading edge. Organizations are employing techniques that save money and, incidentally, are better for the environment.

Case in point: In 2009, the city of North Chicago approved a data center consolidation initiative to address performance and cooling problems and reduce power consumption. The Illinois city had three closets of network and server gear and Category-3 wiring throughout its 40-year-old building.

"We did have UPSs in place, but they were old and not functioning properly. So when the power went out, it caused major disruptions for the network," says Maurice Brown, IT manager for the city. "We also had climate-control issues. We were losing drives to the heat."

Merging three closets into one would significantly reduce the city's power usage footprint while protecting its operations and equipment investment. With that goal in mind, Brown purchased and installed an APC Smart-UPS VT 30kVA 208V and an APC NetShelter SX 42U server rack with more efficient in-row cooling. By October 2010 the consolidation was complete. Brown is now looking to virtualize North Chicago's servers in a further effort to become more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Optimizing Energy Efficiency

An increasing number of state and local governments are using measures such as intelligent power management, server virtualization, hot aisle/cold aisle containment and power-down features to boost energy efficiency in the data center. Some are using private cloud services, where processing can be done more efficiently than in-house. Most agencies that take these steps are driven by the need to control costs and free up space in the data center, along with the socially responsible goal of reducing their carbon footprint.

In every case, the focus should be not just on the power bill, but on getting more work done per watt of power used, advises Greg Schulz, senior advisor at the Server and StorageIO Group consulting firm and author of The Green and Virtual Data Center. "This is not about hugging a tree," he says. "There's the bigger opportunity of becoming more effective (streamlining workflows) and efficient (performing that work) without waste."

87% Percentage of data center owners and operators who rank cost savings as the top motivation for pursuing energy efficiency in the data center

SOURCE:Uptime Institute (May 2011)

Though most branches of government are under a federal mandate to pursue energy efficiency, the environmental benefits of consuming less power are more of a nice byproduct than a driving force. Cost reduction is the primary benefit.

For Bill Kehoe, CIO of King County, Wash., consolidation offered the best way to go green. The county, which is home to Seattle, is shrinking 16 separate data centers into one state-of-the-art center. Shuttering the HVAC systems in all those locations was a powerful incentive for the consolidation, says Kehoe. "We can re-provision those locations as office space. That was a big part of it too."

Kehoe is moving the county to a utility computing model, in which departments share computing capacity rather than having their own. Eventually, he will offload some of the workload to a private cloud. This offers yet another nod to green technology, because managed service providers tend to run efficiently in part because of the high computing volumes they handle.

So Long to Servers

Like King County, the state of Illinois consolidated its data centers and moved to a shared-services computing model, then took the next step of virtualizing servers. It finished the initiative in late 2010.

Don Warren, data center operations executive, oversaw the virtualization of 854 aging physical servers and the deployment of 190 new virtual servers — a total of 1,044 virtual servers. Warren estimates that server virtualization saves the state approximately $187,000 per year in reduced power consumption. "We took the total number of devices that we virtualized, and we took an average power requirement for each one and calculated a 77 percent reduction in power consumption," he says.

Warren is pleased with the return on investment the projects have generated and says his colleagues in other states are working on similar projects. "Everyone's doing it. There is a reduction of revenue. Consolidation and virtualization are the way to go," he says.

Estimating Savings

Maurice Brown, IT manager for the city of North Chicago, knows for certain that his data center consolidation effort has saved the city money by reducing power consumption. The trouble is, he doesn't know exactly how much he's saving. That's because a different part of the city government tracks usage and pays the bill.

Though arguably it would make more sense for the department (in this case, the data center) that uses the power to pay for it, this separation isn't rare, according to Greg Schulz of the Server and StorageIO Group. In fact, in a May 2011 Uptime Institute survey of data center owners, 73 percent said that the real estate/facilities department pays the utility bill, and nearly 10 percent of respondents said they don't even know who pays the bill.

Using some back-of-the-envelope calculations, Schulz estimates that North Chicago reduced its power usage from about 30 kilowatt hours down to about 15kWh by consolidating from three wiring closets down to one. "You don't have to know what the power bill is. If you know that a cabinet consumes 10,000 watts, you can look up power costs for your region and from there, say, for every watt consumed, I need to cool that at the cost of about a watt," he says. "You can start to figure out your costs."

Beyond this arithmetic, Schulz advises IT managers to talk to the person who pays the bill. Everyone should work together to reduce power consumption and its associated costs.

Darren Hauck/Wonderful Machine

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