Green IT comes in many different forms. IT departments can focus on storage, datacentres, servers or desktop machines - or perhaps on an aspect of the supply chain that does not necessarily entail saving power at all. Computer Weekly spoke to five companies that took different approaches to environmentally friendly computing and found out how they helped to green their IT operations from the inside out.
In the datacentre
Late last year, IT services firm eLINIA decided that the time was right to move to a more efficient computing facility, and ended up powering its servers by burning wood chips. The firm, which provides hosted applications and other managed services for customers, teamed up with datacentre specialist Equinix to use its facility in Slough.
Equinix's Slough-based datacentre is powered by a converted power plant that burns wood chips, paper cubes and rice husks, says James Carnie, technical architect at eLINIA. "We went on a waiting list to get into it, because with some of the public sector and charitable customers, there was a requirement around helping them to save energy and help with their green agendas," he says. "We put our name down and were lucky enough to be one of the first four to take space in the building."
The firm, which moved into the facility last November, started serving customers in earnest in February. Not only does the clean power reduce eLINIA's carbon emissions, but the more sophisticated infrastructure in the new facility means that the firm is also able to bill power back to the customers individually, says Carnie. Previously, customers had to pay a flat fee for power.
"That gives them a choice. They can choose to pay for the power they use with a normal server, or they can choose to go and buy a server with an energy-efficient Intel chip," he says. "Typically, that could be 20% more expensive, so if you were going to buy the server and not have the power billed separately, it would be difficult to see the benefits." Direct power billing gives customers the chance to realise their investment.
The first chunk of power that the firm bought from Equinix was 60 kilowatt hours, which Carnie says will be used up in the next four to six months by about 20 racks of equipment, including servers and storage devices. The firm enhanced its power reduction using VMware virtualisation technology. "That saves us roughly £2,000 each year on a typical one or two-U server," he says.
Looking ahead, eLINIA is exploring other options for producing greener power for datacentres. It is negotiating with the Welsh government over a data centre powered by a waste-to-energy plant. "There are negotiations ongoing with a plant that uses a process called hydrogen restoration to basically turn domestic waste into hydrogen," Carnie says. "The hydrogen is burned and then you create energy that way."
Wind power could also be in the offing, but there is a caveat. "If you look at the average 10,000 square foot datacentre, you only need one of the offshore or large onshore turbines to power that at full load," he says. However, location is a hurdle. The further out that the datacentre facility moves toward windy coastal areas, the more likely it is to have problems getting high-speed network connectivity.
"The closer you are to London, the better the network links, and the cheaper the bandwidth," says Carnie. And although green datacentres make happy customers, few of them are willing to sacrifice profits to tell a positive environmental story. For most companies, "green" and "cost savings" must be synonymous.
"All this green stuff at the end of the day is going to be driven by pure economics," he says. And the firm has already gone a long way towards folding the two things together successfully.
In the storage centre
The Royal Horticultural Society has a lot of images to store - 200,000 of them, in fact, with an average size of 50 to 60Mbytes each. "We have best horticultural library in the world, and lots of documents and paintings containing images," says IT operations and security manager Phillip Gladwin. Many of the books and pictures in the library, which are more than 100 years old, are falling apart, he says. The organisation has digitised just a tenth of the images as part of a massive, lottery-funded project to get it all onto magnetic media.
The society needed a storage medium that would grow along with its needs, but that would not demand huge amounts of power up front. It decided to invest in a storage area network from Compellent.
"We looked at some other companies, but their Sans were so clunky and difficult to manage. You have to allocate over-the-top storage for each server just in case you needed it later. Whereas the Compellent lets you do it on the fly, almost," Gladwin says. "This San is greener than most, because you do not need all the disc space up front. We knew that discs were going down in price. We were able to buy a cabinet and leave it empty, and leave room for the discs."
Compellent gave the society multiple types of Raid storage across the same set of discs. The IT team was able to use Raid 5 - a striped set of discs with distributed parity - and Raid 1+0 - a striped set using mirrored discs. This was important because the San was storing images and other types of data that would be accessed by users with varying frequency, and the IT department did not know how popular or important a piece of data would be before it was stored.
"Compellent writes data across all the discs so you do not need as many discs in play at any one time," says Gladwin. "Because it is going over all the discs you have got, you do not need as many discs as if you had to allocate your Raid 5 and 1+0 discs separately."
Gladwin's team segmented its San into two sets of drivers: fast drives, and slower Sata discs. Each set of discs uses a mixture of Raid 5 and Raid 1+0 storage.
Raid 10 tends to be useful for transactional applications that use higher speeds, because there are fewer file locks. Applications critical for Raid 1+0 in the RHS's infrastructure were SQL Server and Exchange, which used Raid 1+0. Raid 5 on the faster drives was reserved for files currently being worked on, including images and other data such as PST files. The slower drives were reserved for files that had not been used in some time.
Having two tiers of discs is useful, says Gladwin. "We have no idea how popular the images are going to be, and having them all on fast discs would not be cost effective." Files could be stored on higher-speed drives with the higher-performance Raid implementation, and then gradually moved to lower-performance Raid and then slower drives as it became less popular with employees.
Although Gladwin does not have exact estimates of the power that he has saved by investing in the Compellent San, he does have some idea of the materials costs, which also has an impact on a storage system's environmental footprint. "We were able to reduce the number of discs we would have had to buy [from other suppliers] to provide a similar infrastructure with a saving of about £37,000," he says.
On the desktop
Clearly, PCs should not end up in the landfill, but recycling is not an ideal option either. Ideally, PCs that are at the end of their corporate life should be used for longer by organisations that do not need the latest in desktop technology.
Reducing the power consumption of an organisation's desktop PCs is therefore only one part of the green equation. The other is ensuring that the PCs end up somewhere useful when a company no longer needs them. Service Birmingham, a partnership between the Birmingham City Council and Capita Business Services, created a scheme this year to dispose of its PCs in a more meaningful way.
Launched in April, the scheme uses three organisations to help channel the council's used PCs back into the community. "Secure IT takes discarded systems back to their base safe state, and then we use two other organisations to make the computers fit for consumption back in the community," says Bob Carter, strategy and policy director for Service Birmingham. "That involves loading things like open source and cleaning them physically."
Secure IT provides full audit reports, along with certificates of data destruction. It then hands the equipment off to Crash IT, which employs people with special needs, and ENTA, which provides vocational training for 14- to 16-year-olds who need skills not available in mainstream education. Needy organisations in the community such as charities can then buy refurbished PCs for between £30 and £100, to cover the cost of processing.
"Roughly, we are talking about replacing 4,500 PCs each year," says Carter, adding that the machines are on a four-year replacement cycle.
The scheme has also been designed to support Digital Birmingham, which is a part of the Service Birmingham partnership designed to address the digital divide. "We held an event at the city centre where we asked people to bring their old kit into a central location so that we could put it through that disposal process," he says, adding that this will probably continue throughout the lifecycle of the initiative.
Service Birmingham has also started purchasing Lenovo machines, which are designed to be energy efficient. "We reckon that this will save the council more than £170,000 per year in electricity, and reduce CO2 by around 1,500 tonnes," he says.
Downsizing your portfolio of physical servers using virtualisation is a proven way to slash your power overheads, and two Canadian firms have both cut costs by virtualising their servers. Enmax, an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta, had more than 280 servers in 2004. The company, which has 1,500 employees, started consolidating servers by squeezing 90 operating systems into three physical boxes using VMware's server virtualisation software. Then it began virtualising most of the servers that it added to its portfolio.
"Today, 48% of our total server farm is on virtualised machines," says Agnes Mah, manager for infrastructure services and information technology at Enmax, explaining that it eventually put 150 servers on six physical machines. "That is a huge energy saving for us. And the environmental savings on scrap metals, rubber, and batteries are a huge environmental incentive.
Today, it has 400 logical servers running on 250 physical boxes. "We still run some legacy systems, like Unix servers," she says. "The main reason is to do with supplier support." Some Unix suppliers are unwilling to support applications running in virtualised environments, she says.
The Interior Health Authority in British Columbia also used virtualisation to improve efficiency in its healthcare management systems. "This particular issue around virtualisation really came from the fact that we were running out of physical space," says Mal Griffin, CIO for the organisation.
The company has 300 servers, all running Windows, and its two primary datacentres, located at the top of a hospital, were becoming overloaded. It plans to close one down and move the other to a new, more environmentally friendly datacentre in the autumn.
The firm currently has 120 virtual machines running, including 70 servers that it moved to a cluster of six VMWare machines. "Our goal by the end of this year is to have 250 servers in a virtual environment, and our main clinical application will be in one too," says Griffin.
In addition to saving space, the virtualisation approach will also save energy costs, he says. "We anticipate saving 76% on power and 84% on cooling requirements, which will save us in the neighbourhood of £35,000 per year."