Kaiser Permanente: Slashes data center power

This health insurer addressed data center cold spots to earn big savings -- and the top spot on our list of green innovators.

A tag-team effort by Kaiser Permanente's data center IT and facilities groups delivered a one-two punch to energy consumption in the company's three data centers this year, cutting an eye-popping 7.2 million kilowatt-hours of power from overall data center operations -- and over $770,000 from power budgets. "We are one of the few companies that have the data center facilities team as part of IT," says Steve Press, executive director of data center facilities services, who credits collaboration for the results.

While the Oakland, Calif.-based healthcare company's IT team, led by vice president of data center services Laz Garcia, was virtualizing Unix and Windows server infrastructure, the facilities group, led by Press, re-engineered the raised-floor cooling system. The initiative was launched a few years ago when the company realized that its Corona, Calif., data center was about to run out of power. Press' team came up with its own way to measure cooling system efficiency, called computer room functional efficiency, passing over industry-standard metrics such as PUE and DCIE, which he says were "not granular enough."

"Our focus was: Where do we get the biggest payback?" Garcia says. So his group first turned to big-iron Unix systems such as the P-series, which consumed as much as 100kW per cabinet. For Press, the key was to do a lot of little things that added up. But by measuring results, the team was able to focus efforts in areas that brought the biggest gains. This included steps such as installing variable-speed fans and hot- and cold-aisle containment systems. "We put to work a lot of little tricks, but the biggest win was sealing up air leaks," he says, noting that these efforts allowed Kaiser to shut off 20 computer-room air conditioners in the three data centers.

Kaiser meters power at the circuit level and has installed wireless environmental sensors at different levels within each rack, in each hot and cold aisle, and in the raised floor to monitor temperature, humidity and static charges. The data feeds a computational fluid dynamics model that runs continuously. The payoff: Kaiser knows exactly where to look for big savings.

"We learned that the first place to address are the cold spots," says Press. "If you take care of places being overcooled, the hot spots take care of themselves." Many of the ideas for power savings came from Kaiser's Keep IT Green teams. The groups of IT staffers, which meet monthly, generated nearly 50 initiatives.

Cabinets are now ordered with blanking plates installed (which Press says is "easier than trying to put them in after the fact"); monthly generator test runs pick up the chiller load while operating; and every piece of hardware is tested to compare its actual power consumption with what's on the faceplate. Most equipment consumes about half the rated amount, so by testing, Press' team can avoid overprovisioning power distribution and cooling infrastructure.

Kaiser's data centers have gone green in other ways as well. Utensils in food areas are biodegradable; people discard them in compost bins. And a new landscaping design at the Corona facility is expected to save 2 million gallons of water per year. These and other ideas originated with both the Keep IT Green teams and green communities on the company's internal social network, Ideabook.

Although Kaiser's IT group expects to cut overall energy consumption by 6% this year, work in the data centers is far from complete. The Napa data center, which Kaiser hopes will earn a LEED Platinum certification once a redesign is completed, will be cooled using outside air by way of water- and air-side economizers. And virtualization efforts are continuing, with 65% of Unix servers and about 20% of Windows servers currently virtual. "There's still a lot of gains to be had," Garcia says.

Next: No. 2: KPMG aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 25%

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