Business > Efficiency

Greening the data centre cuts costs

Cath Everett Published 11 April 2011

Greening the data centre cuts costs

Reducing the environmental impact of data centres can also produce significant efficiency benefits

Although the public sector is to blame for only 3% of the nation's total emissions, the Department for Energy and Climate Change's draft Carbon Plan , which was published in early March, made it clear that public authorities are responsible for setting an example to others.

Moreover, the last government's Greening Government ICT plan set the goal of ensuring that public sector technology should be carbon neutral in and of itself by 2012, with all elements of the ICT lifecycle expected to follow suit by 2020. The campaign remains on the agenda, with the coalition government developing a new green ICT strategy.

While cost-cutting is the current priority, this can go hand-in-hand with boosting energy efficiency and carbon reduction. Councillor Keith Evans of Hampshire county council makes the point that: "Whether it's about green credentials or a focus on cost savings, the two come together very well."

The local authority began the greening of its data centre in 2008 as part of a wider refurbishment of its headquarters in Winchester. The site was redesigned with environmental considerations in mind, including the introduction of a natural ventilation system.

It comprises not only windows that open and close automatically based on ambient temperature, but also carefully positioned ducts to recycle waste heat generated by the data centre around the rest of the building during cold weather, producing energy savings of up to 64%.

The council also took the opportunity to consolidate, virtualise and upgrade its existing server estate, which was also coming to end of its life, by deploying newer energy-efficient machines. It likewise centralised its IT staff, who were distributed across a number of smaller sites, into a single location. Evans says this led to "efficiencies with individuals and the amount of equipment used".

Such activity has resulted in total savings of £1m per annum, some £85,000 of which came from energy costs alone, while the council's carbon footprint has dropped by a total of 700 tonnes each year. The move has also led to other benefits.

Evans explains: "It gave us an opportunity to consolidate our IT resources and make them more efficient, which generated savings, but it also enabled us to share capabilities with other organisations. And all of this has contributed to the county's spending review reductions without having any reduction in services."

This means that the local authority now has the necessary infrastructure in place to share disaster recovery facilities with Dorset county council and provide hosted IT services to the local fire and rescue service. It is also in the process of creating a back office shared services function, which will offer finance, procurement, asset management, HR and payroll offerings based on Unit4 Business Software's applications to other councils.

Another council that has taken a slightly different tack is Waltham Forest in London.

As part of a three-pronged transformation strategy, it has consolidated six ageing data centres into two by renting space at sites owned by IT services provider 2e2 since spring last year. The primary facility is located in Reading, while the secondary one, which is used for disaster recovery, is in Gateshead. The vendor also provides third line infrastructure support.

The move came about following the council's decision to introduce three major but interrelated streams of work under a programme entitled The Way We Work Now. The first stream involved introducing more flexible and remote working among the organisation's 3,500 staff to reduce the need for costly office space, to cut down on travel and reduce its carbon footprint.

The second prong entailed halving the council's estate of more than 70 buildings and rearranging them into four main hubs, with the historic town hall acting as the main back office centre. The aim here was to save money, cut emissions and organise teams more effectively.

The final piece of the jigsaw was the Residents First initiative, aimed at making it as convenient as possible for the borough's 250,000 residents to access services either at the town hall or via local libraries, which are being beefed up to offer a broader range.

Graham Bell, who heads up the ICT division and is running the transformation programme at Waltham Forest, says: "The more money we can save in energy and accommodation and on gaining efficiencies, the less we need to spend on back office support, which means it can be reinvested in frontline services. It's a pretty strong driver."

All of this restructuring meant that the data centres had to be modernised to cope with the higher demands. Because this would have required a significant investment, the decision was taken to go down the co-location route.

While the move to modern facilities, which included efficient air conditioning, cut energy consumption by as much as 50%, upgrading existing IT infrastructure has reduced the council's carbon footprint even more.

The update involved consolidating 100 old servers down to about 30 blade machines, virtualising them and deploying Citrix on the desktop. Power and cooling costs for each physical server have now dropped from £1,183 per physical server to £47 per virtual machine each year. The council has also saved 286,286 Kwh in electricity consumption and expects to cut total data centre costs by £114,435 over three years.

Further gains at the organisational level are expected as a result of replacing power-hungry PCs with a mixed estate of more energy-efficient thin clients for remote workers, laptops for flexible workers and new PCs for specialised users. Upgrading and redesigning the print management system will also lead to a 56% reduction in energy and paper costs.

Bell concludes: "When you embark on these transformations, you have to take a long, hard look at what you have and see whether it's supportable and sustainable into the long term. So it's about asking yourself important questions like 'Are staff able to access systems efficiently?' and 'Is it viable to continue doing things like this yourself?'"








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