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Pacific Gas & Electric: Data center divvied up into blade-server pods

At this utility, ranked No. 8, printers, and even servers, are resource-conserving by default.

By Robert L. Mitchell
October 25, 2010 12:01 AM ET

Computerworld - When it comes to green IT, Pacific Gas & Electric knows how to talk the talk. The California utility already promotes energy conservation to its customers through a variety of incentives targeting everyone from consumers to data center operators.

It also launches internal initiatives, such as its recent "Think before you print" campaign. But the utility practices what it preaches by making green-IT best practices its gold standard. Users don't opt in -- they have to opt out.

For example, all printers are set to two-sided, black-and-white printing by default. Want to print color or one-sided? You'll need to change the print settings for the job. That policy alone cut printing by 51 million pages last year, saving $460,000 in paper and consumables costs, says Scott McDonald, IT architect.

Want a server? It's virtualized by default unless you can justify an alternative. "To opt out, people have to go through a level of transparency with their leadership," says McDonald. "We are virtualizing 80% to 85% of new loads." IT has virtualized almost half of the 1,900 servers in the company. That cut energy use by 2,600 megawatt-hours last year -- a $370,000 savings.

Green Teamwork

Most of PG&E's green ideas don't come from the top down, says Shawn Crossley, senior principal architect, but from a culture focused on sustainable practices. "Even our bonus structure has a measure around environmental stewardship," he says. It's easy to innovate when you're surrounded by a culture that encourages it, Crossley adds. For example, every floor of his building has a compost bin as well as cans for recycling traditional items such as paper and bottles. "Those aren't technology innovations, but it breeds the culture," he says. "A lot of our traction has been at the grass-roots level."

PG&E has also begun segmenting its data center into "pods" and is moving virtual servers, which used to be grouped by project, into a single pool of blade servers within those pods in order to consolidate further. Each pod contains about a dozen racks and is walled off by plastic curtains to isolate cooling and increase efficiency.

IT is also finishing up a power management system that will automatically force employees' 22,270 PCs into sleep mode after an hour of inactivity and turn off monitors after 20 minutes. PG&E projects annual savings of about 5,060 MWh, or $725,000.

Next: No. 9: Union Pacific Railroad's computing capacity is soaring, while it draws down power use.

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



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