Greening the IT Department

“The other day, I was talking with an industry leader group about why Lone Star College System is saving money in its IT department,” says Shah S. Ardalan, Lone Star’s vice chancellor and CIO. “We’re doing it because we’re supposed to reduce energy consumption — because we’re supposed to be the best — not just because we’re in a financial crisis. No one should wait for an economic crisis to think about being greener.”

In addition to it being the right thing to do, there’s the good neighbor reasoning for going green in the IT department. Diana Hansen, marketing manager for Higher Education for Palo Alto, CA-based Hewlett-Packard Co., points out that being green is important from a world citizen standpoint: “We all want a world for our children.” Ardalan brings it closer to home, noting that, as stewards of taxpayers’ dollars, they have a fiscal responsibility to manage costs and improve efficiencies.

Altruism aside, the truth is no one in the higher education world is awash in money. “Efficiency and power costs money and, in fact, it’s a meaningful budget item,” observes Andrew Feldman, founder and CEO of Santa Clara, CA-based SeaMicro, a manufacturer of energy-efficient servers. “IT administrators are not reducing electrical use because it’s a nice thing to do, but because it makes business sense.”

Hansen agrees that greening the IT department makes good business sense. And, she notes that the IT department may be just the place to find savings simply because it has probably been overlooked as other departments have been scrutinized.

In a nutshell, that explains why Lone Star and many other campuses across the country are working to green their IT departments. Now that you know why, here’s how Lone Star and Loyola University are doing it.

Lone Star College
Administrators at Houston-based Lone Star College System have worked diligently to green their IT department. The system consists of five campuses with 70,000 students, plus 15,000 continuing education/certificate students. “In the past two years,” says Ardalan, “we have added 1,820 students, and our budget has gone down. We’re dealing with the same challenges that the rest of the nation is experiencing.”

The Lone Star system has two main data centers; the newer of the two has 1,600 monitoring sensors, is designed to Tier IV standards, and is built based on European design principles for power and cooling. “Our site power is on two different power grids on two different sides of the country,” says Ardalan. “So, if one side of the grid loses power, we get it from the other side.” Campus data center enhancements, virtualization, and modernization will lead to a yearly savings of $428,978 through three years.

Both data centers have identical equipment loads. The new data center has a 1.37 Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), a metric used to determine a data center’s energy efficiency. The older data center’s PUE is down from a 3.8 to a 3.2. “There is still room for improvement,” says Ardalan. “Our next changes are forecasted to reduce this to 2.6 PUE. That is good for a remodeled data center and compared to the rest of the nation.”

Another $630,000 in savings across three years has been achieved by not purchasing traditional hardware. Lone Star is now more than 93 percent virtualized. “This also reduces heat and power consumption in a big way,” Ardalan notes.

Remaining power and cooling is high density (27 rack enclosures with a 480-kW maximum load) and high efficiency (liquid cooled racks, line bypass UPS, and 17-kW rack power/cooling capacity.)

Ardalan’s team has implemented advanced desktop power management on all of the system’s 12,000 computers. They automatically shut off at night, coming up as necessary for updates, and then shutting back down again. “We also made it a requirement that the chips have power management (Intel vPro) in them to consume less power anyway,” he notes. Through this, he is realizing a savings of $725,000 across three years and reducing the computer carbon footprint 50 percent.

Loyola University
The administrators at Chicago-based Loyola University, a Jesuit school with nearly 16,000 students, also have worked diligently to green their IT department.

A couple of years ago, the Loyola data center was relocated to Dumbach Hall, a joint project of the University Facilities department and Information Technology Services. “The relocation allowed us to take advantage of best practices,” says Dan Vonder Heide, director of Information Technology Services, “including leveraging virtualization, looking at how we were directing power, doing innovative things with cooling, and streamlining operations.”

Like Lone Star’s IT department, the department moved to virtualization to reduce its server footprint. Specifically, through the last three years, 60 servers were converted from physical to virtual each year. “We now are 70 percent virtual,” says Jeffrey Apa, Server Operations and Data Center manager.

In terms of equipment savings, Apa says a VM Server licenses for $30,000 and holds approximately 30 servers at $8,000 each. “So the savings are great in terms of pure purchasing of servers,” he says, adding, “and I think it’s around 5 kVA we’ve saved per virtual loaded server as opposed to a full rack of servers.”

Also, the department implemented free coolers. “When the temperature outside is below 50°F, chillers automatically turn off, and we use the outside air to cool the data center,” says Vonder Heide.

Both Apa and Vonder Heide, however, acknowledge that the best thing they’ve accomplished toward the greening of their IT departments is that, last December, they added metering equipment in order to monitor the data center’s power consumption. The cost was approximately $7,000. “For the first time,” says Vonder Heide, “we’re able to capture the benchmark. We knew we were doing the right thing, but there was no way to measure it, and there was no push to quantify it because we were not paying the bill. Working with the facilities department, we can now see the impact every time we add equipment.”

“We love our facilities department,” says Vonder Heide. “We have a fantastic relationship with them, and we designed our new facility in concert with them. We’re in constant communication to make sure we’re all doing the right thing and understanding the needs of the other department.”

Where to Begin?
If you’re ready to move forward with the greening of your IT department, there are two initial steps. The first, as Vonder Heide indicated, is establishing a strong relationship between the facilities and IT departments. “This is a fundamental step in terms of moving forward,” says Randall Foltyniewicz, manager of the enterprise power and cooling practice for Vernon Hills, IL-headquartered CDW-G, a leading provider of technology solutions. “It’s the expression, ‘We don’t know where we want to go unless we know where we are now.’ There has to be a foundation.”

The second step is establishing a benchmark. Foltyniewicz says to look at all the UPS systems, getting software loaded, figuring out run time, determining how much power is being used, and more. “This is the number-one thing that folks need to be doing,” he observes.

As you move forward, focus on innovation. “A year ago,” says Ardalan, “we started making a lot of cuts across our system. One thing we didn’t cut is innovation. For us to be the best and define the best that this country has to offer, it’s what we must invest in.”