October 24, 2011, 12:16 PM — NBC Universal had no room to expand its West Coast data center, located on the Universal City lot in Los Angeles. So Dan Johnson, senior vice president of platform technology, and his team recycled it. The data center refurbishing project, which CIO Christopher Furst refers to as "converting a brownfield," virtualized 60% of the physical servers and shut down 2,000 physical machines.
The new data center uses cold containment aisles and a fiber topology that replaced 300,000 feet of copper cable and moved the cable plant overhead, rather than under raised floors. NBC also implemented smart power distribution units and rack-level environmental and power metering sensors, increasing rack densities by as much as 200%. "It's a very modular design," says Johnson. The setup makes it easier to scale the data center efficiently by adding a row at a time. "Before, that was kind of tricky," he says.
In total, the company retired and recycled 47 tons of hardware and cut power consumption by 11%, says Beth Colleton, vice president of Green Is Universal, the companywide sustainability initiative.
The recession has actually helped Furst get support for the virtualization strategy, because the effort has yielded hard cost savings and makes the business more agile. "I always tell people to never waste a crisis," he says. Furst's team also sold the business on a multisite telepresence system that cuts staff travel costs and carbon emissions.
NBC Universal is working to expand server virtualization by another 12%, and to virtualize other layers in the technology stack, including PCs. "We're looking for consolidation strategies in a broader footprint," says CIO Christopher Furst. That includes cutting the number of data filers by 62% by deduplicating and aggregating data into larger, more-efficient devices.
But for Johnson, the best part was the six-figure rebate check that arrived one day from utility company PG&E as a reward for increasing efficiency and reducing power consumption in the new data center. "For a $19 billion company, that's not a lot," he says. "But it was the highlight of my career."
Furst credits the team for continuing to push the envelope. "It's hard work," he says. "There's no silver bullet. It's something you have to work on every day."