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Earth Rangers: Greens up with virtualization, plus geothermal power

Ranked No. 4, this nonprofit's virtualized data center and geothermal plant fit with its environmental mission.

By Mary Brandel
October 25, 2010 12:01 AM ET

Computerworld - "Bring Back the Wild" -- that's the mission of Earth Rangers, an innovative nonprofit organization that works to educate kids about environmental threats. Its goal is to inspire kids -- the "chief inheritors of environmental destruction," as its Web site says -- to become a powerful part of the solution by working to protect endangered species and their habitats.

Because the organization is asking kids to reduce their own personal consumption, it's important to lead by example, says Peter Kendall, executive director of the Toronto-based organization. So in 2008, when Earth Rangers needed to increase its computing infrastructure to support its planned global expansion beyond Ontario, it knew it had to be energy-efficient.

"We had to look at how to increase our infrastructure while also reducing our energy footprint, so that we're demonstrating our commitment to the kids we deal with," Kendall says.

The result: a highly virtualized data center, housed in a LEED Gold-certified building, that eliminates 90% of the hardware and nearly 85% of the energy costs that a conventional server deployment would require.

"Earth Rangers is interesting because it demonstrates starkly that 'big green advances' are not the sole remit of big organizations," says Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. "In 100 square feet, and with only 10% of a traditional hardware approach, its achievements and technologies are up there with the most advanced of the megacorporations."

Green Teamwork

Energy efficiency is intertwined with the way the entire organization operates, says Peter Kendall, Earth Rangers' executive director. Each department has a green team, which reports on its activities at a monthly management team meeting. "If the organization doesn't make energy efficiency a priority, it will never happen," Kendall says. "It has to be supported by everyone and driven by the top."

Earth Rangers spent months researching the most power-efficient equipment from the most environmentally conscious companies, according to Rob Di Stefano, IT systems director. The implementation included a RAM-intensive blade server system from Dell that reduced the organization's previous eight physical servers to three physical M600 blade servers running 64 virtual servers.

In the future, Earth Rangers expects to benefit from a 40-well geothermal plant it is building to heat and cool the facility, as well as another solar array.

To reach its goal of cutting energy use 20% annually, it has invested in technology that tracks energy usage throughout the facility. "We can't meet our goal without that fine control," says Kendall.

Next: No. 5: Indiana uses remote support to slash desk-side visits at 80 state agencies.

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. You can contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net.

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