Sustainable IT: The 2013 Green IT Awards

These organizations have implemented innovative ways to slash waste, save energy, boost data center efficiency, and reduce CO2 emissions

Green IT doesn’t generate quite the same buzz it did a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean the green-tech movement isn’t alive and well. Since the inception of the InfoWorld Green 15 awards in 2008, we’ve seen organizations of all shapes and sizes raise the green bar year after year, finding new and innovative ways to reduce their environmental impact by slashing carbon emissions, saving electricity, reducing fuel consumption, and eliminating paper waste. All the while, they’ve reaped significant business benefits, including higher productivity, lower costs, and improved employee morale. This year’s crop of Green 15 winners  once again demonstrate that green IT is really just another term for smart, efficient IT that happens to be good for planet.

AOL thinks big by thinking small

AOL has been busy these past couple of years in transforming its data center operations. It decommissioned 9,484 old servers in 2011, then installed 8,376 new efficient machines for a net savings of $4 million and a carbon emissions reduction of nearly 20 tons. The company also opened up a completely unmanned, “lights-out” datacenter called ATC that is monitored and managed remotely. Most recently, AOL unveiled new AOL Micro Data Centers, built by Elliptical Mobile Solutions. Each one is the approximate size of a French-door refrigerator and is filled with servers and networking equipment. Each has hookups for power, networking, and cooling. The're designed to be dropped quickly and easily just about anywhere, inside or out.

Avnet beats the Arizona heat with a smart cooling strategy

With a sustainability goal to reduce its carbon footprint by 32 percent by 2015, Avnet went to work in boosting energy efficiency at its 25-year-old, Arizona-based data center. After deploying a new storage environment and virtualization to improve power efficiency, Avnet turned to slashing cooling costs. Beyond implementing hot and cold aisles and air-side economization, the company installed automation software to ensure that CRAC units work in unison, thereby eliminating redundancy. Using hundreds of sensors, the data center team was able to determine the best layout for CRAC units. The efforts have reaped $250,000 in annual savings, thanks to the elimination of more than 2 million KWh in power consumption. All told, Avnet’s data center renovation will reap the company $7 million in savings.

Casella Waste Systems drives down fuel consumption

Casella Waste Systems, a provider of solid-waste, recycling and resource management services throughout the Northeast United States, deployed a fleet-management solution aimed at helping reduce fuel waste and associated exhaust emissions. The system, developed by FleetMind, includes tools for onboard computing, fleet mapping, reporting and analysis, driver direction, automated service verification, and wireless communications. The system has helped Casella make more efficient use out of its fleet by optimizing routes to reduce time spent on the road, cutting fuel waste by monitoring idling, and identifying inefficient driving patterns and vehicle maintenance issues for immediate resolution.

Cisco promotes green from the inside

Cisco’s LabEnergy Management program is an internal energy-conservation program aimed at reducing electricity consumption within the company’s labs. The company embraced several strategies that will save the company an anticipated $9 million per year while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30,000 metric tons. Among them, Cisco improved air-flow management, ventilation, cooling, and other building infrastructure systems. It installed smart power distribution units to monitor power and control lab-equipment use. The company also launched various programs to educate and incentivize employees to monitor and conserve energy, including developing detailed energy-management plans and performance goals for which employees could earn credit for accomplishing

Green Datacenter embraces DC in a big way

With a PUE of 1.4, data center-service provider Green’s greenDatacenter Zurich West demonstrates that DC power systems can be viable, cost-saving alternatives to wasteful AC-based systems. The facility’s 380-volt DC power-distribution system itself is 10 percent more efficient than a comparable AC system because DC requires fewer power conversions. Fully loaded, the system reduces power-consumption by 20 percent in power consumption from grid to chip and in cooling. DC systems also take up as much as 25 percent less space because they require less equipment. ABB engineered the 1MW DC-power distribution system for the 3,600 square foot datacenter expansion; HP provided the HVDC-enabled server and storage gear.

The Green Grid takes on e-waste

The Green Grid, famous for popularizing the PUE metric for datacenter efficiency, developed a new metric dubbed the EDE (Electronics Disposal Efficiency), a universal standard for quantifying how well a company is managing its e-waste. The group’s goal was to promote more responsible handling of e-waste on a global scale by helping organizations identify what they are disposing of and understand where the waste streams are going. The metric calculates what percentage of a decommissioned piece of IT equipment is disposed of through known, responsible entities. In developing EDE, Green Grid tapped into its knowledgebase of efficiency and sustainability experts, while also enlisting organizations such as United Nations University’s Solving the E-waste Problem Initiative.

National Center for Atmospheric Research innovates its way to a PUE of 1.08

The NCAR, a research organization for more than 75 U.S. universities, built a 170,000 square foot datacenter with an astonishingly low PUE of 1.08. On the cooling side, the facility embraces two methods: Evaporative cooling towers chill water to 65 degrees, and the water flows directly to the datacenter equipment. The piping doesn’t have any 90-degree angles, which means moving the water requires less power. The facility also uses outside air for cooling. To address drastic drops in humidity, the architects installed a MeeFog system, an energy-efficient alternative to a steam generator. H+L Architecture designed the building; California Data Center Design Group conceptualized the electrical systems; and Integral Group developed the mechanical systems. RMH Group did the construction and commissioning.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory takes the heat and reuses it

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s new Energy Systems Integration Facility features the first petascale HPC (high-power computing) system to use warm-water liquid cooling and reach an average PUE rating of 1.06 or better. The component-level liquid cooling system, developed by HP, keeps machines humming within safe operating range while reducing the number of fans in the backs of the racks. High-voltage electricity is supplied directly to the racks, which saves on power electronics equipment, power conversions, and losses. ESIF is also built to capture heat waste generated by the HPC system and use it to heat the ESIF office space and labs.

P&Gs sales reps trade in fat binders for sleek iPads

Through P&G’s Paperless In-Store Selling program, the company’s sales reps have swapped binders full of papers for iPads loaded with apps. On the green side, the company wastes 16 million fewer piece of paper and uses significantly less toner and electricity associated with print jobs. The company also doesn’t have to ship out binders, further reducing costs and associated carbon emissions. In terms of business benefits, sales reps are always equipped with the most up-to-date information, allowing them to respond to issues and opportunities in the stores in real time. P&G has reaped $3 million in annual savings, while freeing up 12,000 hours in additional selling time, translating to 5,000 additional sales calls per week and $22 million in additional sales.

Porto Alegre greens its fight against viral outbreaks

The CGVS (Coordenadoria Geral de Vigilancia e Saude) of Porto Alegre, Brazil is tasked with monitoring and controlling mosquito populations to reduce the risk of viral outbreaks. The agency is also concerned with the amount of insecticide it spews into air. To that end, it deployed a paperless field-data collection system. Field agents traded in pencils and paper for mobile devices loaded with reporting software. The data they collect is immediately sent for processing; managers can monitor mosquito and virus hotspots in real time. Agents make up to 15,000 control visits each week, so the environmental gains from reduced paper waste are significant, but the new approach also means that the CGVS can more accurately evaluate viral circulation, which reduces the overuse of insecticides.

Rutgers sows seeds for tomorrows solar-powered datacenters

The Rutgers Computer Science Department built a solar-powered micro data atop the roof of its building. The system, dubbed Parasol, hosts two racks of energy-efficient Atom servers and networking equipment; it uses outside air for cooling as weather permits. Parasol also includes power-monitoring infrastructure to measure how much energy is drawn from each available source. The Rutgers also developed complementary software: GreenSlot, a parallel batch-job scheduler for solar-powered datacenters; GreenHadoop, for ensuring big data workloads maximize their use of solar; and GreenNebula, a customization of OpenNebula designed to maximize green energy use by migrating virtual machines across data centers.

Telus strikes LEED Gold

Canadian telecom company Telus’s $65 million Intelligent Internet Data Center boasts an innovative design and is built for sustainability. Built to LEED Gold standards, the facility has a PUE of 1.15. It’s in Rimouski, where the climate is well suited for free cooling; the data center requires only 40 hours of mechanical cooling per year. The facility also incorporates a closed-loop cooling system that is 180 times more efficient than that of a traditional cooling plant. The facility’s modular design supports ever-increasing server densities, too: The average cabinet density is 14kW, with the potential for support of up to 20kW per rack. Telus will realize estimated water savings of 17 million gallons, energy savings of 10,643,000 kWh, and carbon savings of 329 tons per year.

University of Kansas slashes paper waste

The University of Kansas instituted an extensive print-management program in an effort to slash paper, toner, and energy waste. The effort started with replacing outdated copiers and printers with a fleet of MFDs. From there, the IT department enabled technologies like PaperCut’s Print Release, through which print jobs are processed only when users arrive at the printer station and confirm their identities. The team also activated preset preferences and page-level detection to reduce paper and toner waste. Instructors no longer print multiple copies of reading materials for students. Instead, pages are scanned and uploaded to the university's learning management system. The university reports around $376,000 in savings on paper, toner, electricity, and space, thanks in part to 11 million fewer unprinted pages.

Urban Edge undergoes a top-to-bottom green makeover

Urban Edge, a community development corporation in Massachusetts, underwent a significant green-tech makeover to cut costs and improve efficiency. The process entailed upgrading core IT infrastructure and core business applications, dumping its antiquated paper-and-pen applications to a hosted CRM, and embracing other hosted apps to further reduce dependence on in-house IT gear. Urban Edge also adopted file-storage and workflow offerings from Etfile to further boost efficiency and cut print waste. Urban Edge’s efforts yielded at 65 percent reduction in the size of its data center footprint and an anticipated 70 percent reduction in paper waste. That translates to cost reductions of around $48,000 per year, nothing to sneeze at for a relatively small organization with 30 end users.

Verne Global teams enlists Mother Nature to power and cool datacenter

Verne Global teamed Colt Data Centre Services to build a modular, state-of-the-art data center in Iceland that runs completely on geothermal and hydroelectric power. The data center has no carbon footprint is cooled entirely by outside air; there are no chillers or compressors. That all contributes to a PUE of around 1.2. The modular facility is also almost 100 percent recyclable. Other features include a glycol run-around coil, which enables units to switch to indirect cooling to maintain humidity levels above 20 percent. Active floor-pressure controls minimize fan energy consumption, while smart, sensor-controlled lighting systems using high-efficiency fluorescent lighting and passive infrared lighting means no energy is consumed when the aisles are not being used.