Why green IT is good for business

As these companies have discovered, when IT projects focus on operational efficiency, sustainability benefits usually follow.

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For his part, Humphries raised the temperature in the FedEx Colorado Springs data center by 5 degrees. He declined to say where the temperature is now set, but he says if he set the temperature at 76 degrees on the intake side of the racks, the temperature in the hot aisle would top 100 degrees. "Sending in someone to replace servers in 100-degree heat is not what we want," he says. Humphries says the law of diminishing returns kicks in as you approach the upper range of the ASHRAE limit: Fans run longer and equipment works harder, and adding heat containment would have gone against FedEx's commitment to simplicity in the data center. But raising the temperature 5 degrees in Colorado Springs yielded cost savings that are significant enough for the organization to begin phasing in a similar change at another major data center in Tennessee.

Savings also added up at Raytheon, which raised temperatures in the network distribution rooms in its Tucson, Ariz., facility from 65 to 75 degrees without running into problems. That step alone saved 112,000 kilowatt-hours per month -- enough energy to power 100 homes, according to Moore. Raytheon has expanded the initiative to other facilities, but savings vary depending on location, total power use and other variables.

Roger Schmidt, an IBM fellow and chief engineer on data center efficiency, recommends that Web 2.0 and lower-tier data centers turn the needle closer to the 80.6-degree mark, but he says that even Tier 1 data centers in risk-averse industries such as banking can safely ease the mercury up to 75 degrees.

Another underappreciated strategy is to set up instrumentation in the data center that lets administrators monitor and manage both temperature and power use. Most IT organizations still don't do this, according to Gartner. Schonberger advises building a business case for this by tracking the half-dozen pieces of equipment that are your company's biggest energy consumers. "It doesn't save you any money, but it allows you to prioritize," he says.

Saving Green With Alternative Energy

Only after an organization has analyzed and instrumented its data center, eliminated redundancy and re-engineered to squeeze the maximum efficiency out of its IT infrastructure should alternative power come into play. First National of Nebraska became one of the first organizations to power a data center entirely on fuel cells when it built a new data center more than a decade ago. But when it was time to order new fuel cells this year, it was able to cut the power requirements from 600 to 400 kilowatts because management of its data center infrastructure had improved.

The operating cost, at 12 cents per kwh, is almost double the 6.2 cents First National's utility would charge. But First National had designed the building to use the waste heat from fuel cells to warm its interior and melt snow on some outdoor surfaces in the winter. Fuel cells also provide a very stable power supply and meet management's goals of using renewable energy, Cole says. But, he says, "if we were building the data center today, it would be a more difficult business decision."

FedEx uses solar and fuel cells in other facilities. But after considering solar, wind and fuel cells during the design phase for the Colorado Springs data center several years ago, it decided to pass. Of those technologies, fuel cells looked the most promising. The cost of power from fuel cells couldn't match utility rates, but the business was more concerned about the availability of commercial utility power than the economics, says IT director Brad Hilliard. What killed the idea was the location of service, which at that time was concentrated on the East and West coasts. Today, however, the technology and associated support infrastructure is more mature. Were he reconsidering that decision now, Hilliard says, "We would spend more energy on that because that local utility risk is so important to manage."

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