Climate Corps 2010: A Search for Leaks Lands Savvis $6M in Savings

Earlier this summer, I began my work as an EDF Climate Corps fellow at Savvis  where I was charged with finding energy efficient solutions for the company's data centers. Now I stand here, two months later, still asking myself the same question I had when I first shook my manager's hand: "How is a young guy like me, with no experience in data centers, going to help?"

Savvis is an IT solutions provider. Its capability features a global network with 31 data centers, totaling approximately 1.5 million square feet, in North America, Europe and Asia. Savvis' model practices, automated management and provisioning systems have helped it secure 4,000 business and government customers, and rank as a leader in Gartner's 2010 magic quadrant.

I was well aware of these impressive facts when I was first hired, and I understood how much effort Savvis was devoting to energy efficiency. I spent hours asking questions and deciphering, little by little, the language of HVAC systems and airflow management. This is an extremely complex topic involving thermodynamics, meteorology, fluid dynamics and mechanics. It was obvious that three months of work, and a little experience in fluid mechanics, would not be enough to reinvent the wheel at this company.

My Search for Leaks

Despite my lack of experience and knowledge, I pushed my doubts aside and stepped into one of the data centers. I walked into a low lit, cold, white space vibrating with the murmur of the servers running and the blast of the AC. I was surprised when I entered a clearing in this forest of racks. A blast of cold air was blowing hard on me. What was this airflow doing here so far from any servers?

This initial observation triggered my search for "leaks." These leaks, I figured, are like the cars that a car manufacturer produces and cannot sell. They are wealth that has been transformed through an expensive process and is wasted with no use. Processes are never 100 percent efficient, but I wanted to understand how inefficient this one was. And I found the opportunities I was looking for: $6 million in savings per year.

My initial question: "Why had this gold mine not been found before?"

The answer: It has been found ... many times.

Exploitation had been tried many times too, but there were barriers in the actions required to keep mining this gold. These actions are:

• Strenuous
• Repetitive
• Impactful to many stakeholders
• Difficult to track
• Insignificant to sales

A Transformation of the Colocation Industry

The colocation industry is beginning to experience an interesting transformation, similar to one that occurred in the airline industry with the emergence of Southwest Airlines' sustainability initiatives. In the past, the focus of the airline industry had simply been safety and service, a mentality that trickles down to shape every aspect of its operations. Now, Southwest Airlines has added environmental stewardship to its lists of priorities, and as a result, we're seeing a movement that is slowly transforming the airline industry.

Similarly, this attention to energy efficiency is now driving IT companies to readjust their priorities. Those who will be able to shape their operations to focus on data center efficiency have the potential to become leaders for innovation in their respective industry.

After much brainstorming, I now know how I helped: I told a data center company to follow the path that an airline had paved its industry, and apply it to the IT world. The result? I helped Saavis uncover annual savings of $6 million.

Thomas Potier is a 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow at Savvis and a member of Net Impact. He is an MBA Candidate at Michael G. Foster School of Business, University of Washington. This content is cross-posted at the Environmental Defense Fund Innovation Exchange Blog.