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Union Pacific: With updated equipment, capacity rises and power use drops

Its computing capacity soars, yet this railway, ranked No. 9, draws down its power consumption.

By Bob Violino
October 25, 2010 12:01 AM ET

Computerworld - Environmental stewardship is deeply ingrained in the corporate culture at Union Pacific Railroad Co., and implementing green-IT systems plays a central role in the railroad's efforts to conserve energy.

Since 2000, the Omaha-based company has spent about $6 billion on new, environmentally friendly locomotives. It has also retired more than 2,300 older, less fuel-efficient trains and overhauled almost 3,200 diesel engines to run cleaner and more efficiently. Recycling is encouraged at all locations, and energy efficiency was a critical consideration when the company built a new 19-story corporate headquarters facility.

But it is the building that houses Union Pacific's data center that has been a focal point of its most recent green efforts. The data center has allowed the railway to accommodate significant growth in servers and disk capacity. Since 2008, the company has increased its computing capacity by about 200% and its disk storage capacity by about 700%.

During the same period, however, power consumption in the center actually decreased by about 14%. "We made a concerted effort to reduce energy consumption," says Lynden Tennison, senior vice president and CIO. "We've done that by modernization of the equipment." For example, Union Pacific uses blade servers rather than older, large towers.

Green Teamwork

A cross-functional team made up of business and IT people developed an application called Fuel Masters Unlimited, which analyzes train operations data from onboard computers to evaluate how efficiently engineers operate their trains. The system calculates the total gallons of diesel fuel saved and the related dollar amount saved monthly. In 2009, Fuel Masters helped Union Pacific reduce fuel consumption by 4% from 2008 levels.

"Servers are typically responsible for around 40% of a data center's total electricity bill," says Doug Washburn, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "While sourcing more efficient servers, like blades, is one solution, IT managers need to focus on improving the utilization of their existing servers through decommissioning, consolidating and virtualizing."

The company has also deployed energy-efficient HVAC and building-automation controls, power management software and server virtualization systems, and it has revised its data center layout to reduce power demands. In addition, the railroad uses alternative energy supplies such as solar and wind to provide power to IT systems.

Next: No. 10: Baker Hughes' high-performance computing program keeps servers humming in nonpeak hours.

Violino is a freelance writer in Massapequa Park, N.Y. Reach him at

Read more about Data Center in Computerworld's Data Center Topic Center.

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