Climate Corps: Delving Deeper to Enhance Data Center Efficiency

EDF Climate Corps

Climate Corps: Delving Deeper to Enhance Data Center Efficiency

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Efficiency. Renewable Energy. Energy Savings. It seems so easy: Add recycle bins, upgrade light bulbs, buy more efficient desktop monitors, make all your company cars hybrid. Then slap a big green blurb about sustainability efforts on your homepage and you're done. Is becoming sustainable really so easy?

Meaningful change within a corporate setting is clearly not so cut and dry. With all the green press and government support of green energy initiatives, it's easy not to see what might be going on behind the scenes within a corporation that makes sustainability become a lasting value.

I've spent my summer working at salesforce.com, in the heart of San Francisco, working on energy efficiency projects. Green is a big part of this city's culture, LEED is required of all new offices, reusable water bottles are the norm, Styrofoam has been outlawed and composting is mandatory.

When you dig deeper into a corporation, the task of achieving sustainable operations is highly complex. I focused on two projects: A data center asset management analysis and a flex work space analysis. Both projects speak to the in-depth research and planning that is required to integrate environmental factors into the corporate decision-making process.

At the start, as with any research project, gaining access to critical data and incorporating new metrics into the company's system seemed to be the biggest challenges. Ultimately, I hope these new analytics will support the work being done to develop a sustainability policy, as well as help make sustainability an ongoing corporate priority.

Salesforce.com has already implemented a number of energy efficiency measures in their data centers. They utilize hot and cold aisles, maintain high utilization rates, the cables are bundled and organized at all sites, they perform regular technology refreshes and old servers are removed when they are no longer being used. The new task has been to dig deeper. As with any service provider, reducing energy consumption must be balanced with the No. 1 priority of availability and customer satisfaction.

Within these guidelines, my research sought to look at the variables and integrate new methodologies for technology upgrades so that energy and carbon emission are integrated into the decision-making. This is where sustainability acts as a form of change management. The only way to continue making energy efficiency a part of the decision-making process is to provide a thorough analysis that maintains existing priorities and proves carbon can also be mitigated.

As the leader in enterprise cloud computing, salesforce.com has built sustainability into its product design. The service is accessed directly online, eliminating the need for manufacturing, packaging and shipping. Utilizing the Force.com platform maximizes the use of hardware and electricity through a multi-tenant architecture scaled for many customers. I believe the Climate Corp's research and other sustainability efforts will extend additional reassurance that operational efficiency is also being made a priority.

Through the data center project I've worked with employees across many departments, including asset management, procurement, upgrades, architecture, finance, capacity planning, and engineering to make energy efficiency changes a reality. Working across so many functional areas in a company makes obtaining data and building streamlined systems challenging. I was tasked with building a tool that integrates data from many of these various sources. I've grappled with how to link operations with asset management in one tool. The decisions made in regard to new models and technology are ever changing. Once an upgrade decision is made, new models are announced and analysis begins again.

My work is based in this dynamic world. We developed and used modeling tools so as things change we could see the immediate impact on energy efficiency. Using the tools daily made it become part of everyday decision-making. I have spent much of my time gathering the data that will lead to the analysis of consumption as well as looking at how efficiency and cost is viewed in the next round of upgrades. It's been important for me to not only look one step forward, but also set the stage for long term decision-making with the same methodology. I've worked with each team to learn their strengths and weakness and what they find critical, building all of these needs into a dynamic tool that will benefit the company long into the future.

Looking forward I can clearly see the benefits that these energy efficiency strategies will have on the company. Making energy usage and analysis information widely available to a cross-functional team and successfully managing the change will be, I believe, the key to improving energy efficiency at salesforce.com, as it would any company. At salesforce.com, the focus is on long-term planning that incorporates the risks related to a carbon-constrained world. Figuring out feasible changes and implementing them today is the challenge.
 
Catherine Sweere, a 2009 Climate Corps fellow and a Net Impact member, is pursuing a Master's of Business Administration degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

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