IBM's Data Center Remodel Saves 98 Percent of Costs, Boosts Capacity 8x

IBM's Data Center Remodel Saves 98 Percent of Costs, Boosts Capacity 8x

In an hour-long webcast yesterday, IBM showed how putting the company's own technology to work on overhauling its Lexington, Ky., data center highlights the potential of energy efficient IT projects.

The webcast, featuring IBM's VP of Global Technology Services, Steven Sams, in conversation with Executive Editor Joel Makower, showed how CIOs are starting to take green IT seriously, and how IT can expand business operations while cutting costs companywide.

(You can watch and listen to an archived copy of the webcast, which will be available until January 2010.)

But among the most interesting elements of the conversation was Sams' description of how IBM put its energy-efficient IT solutions to work in their own facilities, to great effect.

Sams offered the example of one of the company's data centers in Lexington, Ky. The facility was completely full, so IBM managers had planned to spend about $50 million to build a new site right next to the existing facility. Instead, engineers decided to put the same principles that IBM offers to clients as part of its Project Big Green to work on their site and measure the results.

IBM was able to cut the number of servers used by 85 percent by consolidating every cluster of six servers into just one. The company then filled the data center with the most energy efficient servers available, and it is now running with eight times the computing capacity than it had two years ago, and all for just $1 million instead of the originally budgeted $50 million.

The chart below shows some of the results; the blue bar represents IBM's changes to the IT technology in the data center, and the green bar represents changes to the data center infrastructure itself. 

Among the other key takeaways from yesterday's webcast: 

Be sure that there's one individual responsible for energy costs and savings. Sams suggests the CIO should have the responsibility and accountability for energy usage, as a way of both providing incentives to cut energy use as well as keeping one set of eyes on the energy bill at all times, rather than distributing energy management between IT and facilities.

Get the facts about where your energy consumption is. Measure your usage, and find your most- and least-efficient energy consumption areas; that will allow you to drill down on opportunities for potential savings in your company. At IBM, for example, although their data centers represent just 6 percent of the company's total floor space, they use 36 percent of the company's total energy; that's why IBM is focusing so closely on data center energy efficiency.

Gather the low hanging fruit for immediate savings. Every company has at least some simple projects that can be undertaken that offer immediate energy and cost savings, and also build momentum for future green projects.

Leverage outside experience. Sams said that 56 percent of respondents in IBM's recent survey of 2,500 CIOs said they used outside expertise where their company didn't have the knowlege or abilities to do the job. By drawing on other experts in the field, your company can keep abreast of the latest best practices for IT energy efficiency.

The single most important lesson for IT professionals to learn, Sams said, is that green IT projects are simply not difficult to undertake. He offered the example of an IBM client that made $15,000 worth of changes that ended up saving the company $150,000 per year in energy savings; almost every project that IBM undertakes has a full payback in less than two years, many of them in less than one year.
"We're seeing 15 percent to 70 percent reductions in overall operating costs in the client engagements we do day in and day out," Sams said. "This isn't just about being environmentally friendly, this is about saving the bottom line of the company."

The webcast is archived online for the next 90 days. More about IBM's Project Big Green is online at