Green IT initiative saves $2,000 daily in electricity bill for Capitol Hill

There are two really big reasons you should care about the greening of the U.S.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

There are two really big reasons you should care about the greening of the U.S. House of Representatives, and of the branch offices associated with Capitol Hill. For one, the IT operations are SO BIG that there are bound to be things that you can learn from their IT team's experiences. The second, maybe more important reason from your person standpoint, is that when Congress saves money, American taxpayers save money. The more administrative costs that can be cut out of running the government, the more likely it is that the money can go to real programs.

Against, this backdrop, it was cool to learn that the House green IT initiative -- one that saved it $2,000 in electricity costs DAILY after just one year -- has just won an IT innovation award as part of the Green Enterprise IT awards presented this week by the Uptime Institute.

I sat through a presentation about the green IT initiative by Jack Nichols, director of enterprise operations for the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. House of Representatives. First a sense of the scale here: there are 441 members in the U.S. House and 23-plus committees that are accommodated by this initiative. Overall, there are roughly 10,400 employees across all members, committee and branch office organizations covered by his work.

Nichols said the impetus for his green It project were several: First, the data center supporting the House was very near capacity from a space and power standpoint. As a result, his organization was constrained as far as new services it was able to offer. There was also the little matter of the Green the Capitol effort, which (among other things) aims to cut energy consumption by 50 percent over the next 10 years within the Congressional operations.

It won't astonish you to hear that Nichols' team relied on a combination of data center virtualization, consolidation and rightsizing to pull off the power consumption reduction that I've already mentioned. It also optimized the cabling and sub-floor air flow metrics. Here are some quick stats:

  • The group reduced approximately 85 Windows-based product servers down to 8 host servers. It now only has 12 Unix servers, down from 35, and it reduced 180 test servers down onto a single rack.

  • The number of computer room air-conditioning units was cut to 6 units from 14 units at the start of the consolidation.

  • The data center IT equipment now consumes 125 kilowatts, down from 500 kilowatts (that's $1,000 in savings per day, according to Nichols)

  • Power consumed by the cooling units was reduced to less than 350 kilowatts from 750 kilowatts (another $1,000 daily in electricity bill savings).

Here are some tips from Nichols for those of you undertaking similar initiatives as a green IT exercise:

  1. Baseline your infrastructure: Take time to measure utilization. In the case of the House data center, some servers were utilized only 5 percent.
  2. Balance the mathematical promise of virtualization against business application value: Nichols reminds IT managers that they need to spend time understanding the value of certain applications and pick battles you're like to win easily rather than focus on technologies that may be harder to justify changing.
  3. Don't underestimate the impact of rightsizing: While it's great to standardize on a minimal number of server configurations, this can result in over-provisioning.
  4. Involve key stakeholders early and often: Not only do you need their buy-in to move forward, but you can make THEM look like the heroes in the consolidation. You might also come across new services that are made possible by your consolidation. For example, the House data center is now being used to consolidate some of the IT functions of the branch offices (think "cloud" services), which is like to result in another wave of efficiency.
  5. Be prepared to redefine traditional IT roles: If your network administrators, server team, security engineers and storage specialists are working in their own siloes, you will not be able to realize the full potential of a green IT effort.

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