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Innovation

Wanna get green? Compress your email; Couple IT, facilities; Power down

Chris O’Connor, vice president of IBM’s software group, is one of three executives in charge of making Big Blue as green as possible. IBM has a project called Big Green that’s about 16 months old.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Chris O’Connor, vice president of IBM’s software group, is one of three executives in charge of making Big Blue as green as possible. IBM has a project called Big Green that’s about 16 months old.

Like many technology vendors, IBM set a big commitment to reduce carbon emissions, become more efficient and dramatically raise computing capacity. Aside from those goals there’s another bonus: IBM can sell what it cooks up internally as hardware, software and services.

Among the key topics we covered in our conversation: Compress email and dedupe data. One of the green things you can do is to compress data and dedupify items that don’t offer unique information. Compressed storage can cut power consumption 30 percent to 40 percent. “You have to ask ‘what do I do that makes computing run hotter?’” says O’Connor. Hoarding emails makes servers run hotter. If an institution has 5,000 users compressing mail files and deduping data can reduce energy costs. Power down not off. Systems and power management need to be aligned and you can save 25 percent to 35 percent on power simply by powering down computing resources when the demand isn’t there. For instance, systems should power down on Friday when folks log off for the weekend. Why not just turn off the power? It’s too risky, says O’Connor. Strange things can happen when you bring systems back online from a cold start.

Your CIO is becoming pals with the head of facilities as the two functions become intertwined. O’Connor lays out the budget reality: CEOs and CFOs want power costs down and they have tagged IT and facilities with the task. As a result, facilities and IT folks are often in system design meetings. The problem: Facilities and IT people aren’t used to talking—they have never collaborated before. “Three years ago we never had any calls about meetings between IT and facilities,” says O’Connor. “Eighteen months ago we had our first call and in May we filled a room of people interested in the topic. The need to conserve power is forcing the two together.” The facilities and IT side of the equation “all identify with the problem.”

Power management dashboards are emerging. O’Connor says that a web of sensors—in data center server racks, servers and other areas—have allowed power and heat to be measured in real time. What is emerging is a business intelligence approach to power. This development allows managers to visualize the power consumption, find hot spots and then analyze why an area is gobbling up cooling costs. In other words managers can see “how much they are spending on the data center floor” and enable capacity management. This dashboard approach is a sea change from the days where a fluid mechanics engineer would walk a data center floor with carts full of sensors and temperature gauges. IBM offers a power management dashboard and expects to compete with companies like OSI Software and Rockwell that specialize in heavy asset tracking such as plant machinery, oil and gas rigs and medical devices.

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