Leaner and Greener

New Project Big Green initiatives at IBM are saving companies big money.

New Project Big Green initiatives at IBM are saving companies big money.
Illustration by Matt Collins

After only a year, clients are already reaping the rewards of IBM Project Big Green, a program designed to help companies boost the energy efficiency of their IT operations, through IBM innovations for the data center. Now IBM is set to help companies take those energy-efficiency innovations into areas beyond the data center. Not only will companies be able to see improvements in other areas, but they’ll also gain tangible measurements of their success. Welcome to the next phase of Project Big Green.

With oil priced at more than $100 per barrel and natural gas at more than $10 per million British thermal units, energy costs are voraciously eating away at companies’ revenues. Since IT is a huge consumer of energy, a more efficient data center can put IT on a much-needed energy diet. If every data center in the world went green, the results would be astonishing. A mere 20-percent improvement in efficiency would reduce energy consumption by 35 billion kilowatt hours.

Curbing Energy Use

Project Big Green is “IBM’s effort to improve the energy efficiency of its IT infrastructure,” says Rich Lechner, vice president, IBM Systems and Technology Group, who has overall responsibility for IBM’s energy-efficiency initiatives. “It’s a broad portfolio of offerings that gives a holistic approach from the facilities level through systems and virtualization with an eye toward energy optimization.”

Energy optimization is one diet method that will curb IT’s ravenous appetite for energy. In a data center, 55 percent of energy used goes to power and cooling with 45 percent used by the IT load. IT resources use 70 percent of the energy for power supply, memory, fans, drives and other resources while processors use 30 percent. Meanwhile, utilization’s resource-use rate accounts for 20 percent of the energy used while a whopping 80 percent is idle.

Project Big Green addresses all of these areas. For the data center, it can help companies understand energy use and find opportunities for improvement. For IT resources, Project Big Green will assist in planning, building and upgrading to energy-efficient data centers. Control over utilization can be achieved by implementing energy management and virtualization.

According to Lechner, to date, more than 2,000 customers worldwide have improved their IT energy efficiency through Project Big Green. “A number of clients have achieved measurable results,” he says, “including floor-space reduction as great as 80 percent and energy reduction on an average of 40 percent, although some clients are seeing total energy reduction within the data center of 75 to 80 percent. They’re seeing the utilization of their assets—servers, storage and networking—triple, and in some cases quadruple, over the previous environment.”

The organizations that have put Project Big Green into practice, and found the benefits of energy efficiency, span a range of industries, proving the concept will work for any business. The list includes the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Hannaford Bros. Co., Nationwide, Threshold Animation Studios, AISO.Net, Bryant University and PG&E Corporation.

Leading by Example

A keystone to IBM’s commitment to energy efficiency is its own program to boost compute capacity with no increase in energy consumption. The company expects to see an annual savings of 5 billion kilowatt hours through its efforts. Additionally, IBM’s actions will help avoid 2.5 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions annually. That’s the equivalent of taking 1 million automobiles off the road.

“IBM made a commitment that the company was going to double the compute and data capacity between 2007 and 2010 without increasing our consumption or environmental impact,” Lechner says. “We’re realizing the benefits we projected.”

Those benefits include opening a state-of-the-art green data center in Boulder, Colo. The data center has an energy-efficient design and construction and features a high-density computing system that uses virtualization and IBM’s Cool Blue* portfolio of energy-efficient power and cooling technologies. IBM also has made a series of energy-efficiency improvements at its Southbury, Conn., data center and has applied for energy-efficiency certificates associated with that project.

Consolidation plays a huge role in IBM’s energy-reduction plan. “We’ve embarked upon the largest server-consolidation project in the world by consolidating 3,900 x86 and UNIX* systems onto just 33 IBM System z* mainframes,” Lechner says. The company looks to save $25 million in energy costs through the consolidation, which it expects to complete in December 2009. As of June, “we’re on track to achieve that date,” Lechner says.

“Some clients are seeing total energy reduction within the data center of 75 to 80 percent.”—Rich Lechner, vice president, Systems and Technology Group, IBM

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at

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