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CIO Challenge: Energy Efficiency

THE CHALLENGE: To meet the ever-increasing demand for computing power on Wall Street, firms require more and more energy to run their data centers. But faced with skyrocketing energy costs, CIOs are challenged to balance raw computing power with energy consumption.

Wall Street more often is associated with greed than eco friendliness. Yet there is a growing awareness in the industry that being more energy efficient is not just about saving the environment -- it can add savings to the bottom line, too.

Demands on firms' computing resources are increasing all the time, which has led to a surge of industry interest in the use of grid technologies and cluster computing, according to Larry Tabb, CEO of advisory firm TABB Group. However, cluster-based computing requires a tremendous amount of energy and cooling the hardware is a challenge.

As a result, there is a limit to the density of clusters that firms can squeeze into their data centers, unless they reduce their power consumption and the heat output of the processor chips. Add in soaring electricity bills and it's no surprise that energy efficiency is entering into firms' technology strategies.

A Growing Obsession

"Our industry is at the leading edge of a major shift from an obsession with raw compute power to the cusp of becoming obsessed with computer efficiency," says Kenneth Romans, SVP of operations at Fidelity Investments Systems Co., the technology organization for Fidelity Investments. "Providing higher levels of customer service means more demand for compute power and storage, but at the same time we need to support those services at low cost so customers can see high returns from low fees on their investment products."

But with energy costs constantly on the rise, data center operations loom larger and larger in that cost structure over time, Romans notes. To mitigate those rising costs, Fidelity has adopted a three-pronged approach for its global data center strategy.

The first, Romans relates, is to invest in new, higher- efficiency technologies. That includes using more-efficient microprocessors as they come to market and improving storage capabilities. The use of MAID (massive array of idle disks) technology, for example, allows a significant portion of the storage subsystem to be powered down when not in use, according to Romans.

The second area of focus is to better utilize the assets that already are in the data centers through virtualization. Part 1 of that approach is hardware virtualization, which "allows you to efficiently run multiple things at once," says Romans. The other component is operating system-level virtualization. "What it amounts to is trying to get the degree of virtualization in our nonmainframe environment that we have in mainframes, where the virtualization is of thousands of applications running together on one box," Romans says.

The third area of focus is the design and operation of the firm's computer room infrastructure. "We've designed custom server cabinets that allow us not only to get more server units in, but to have better airflow around the units so we can more effectively cool them," Romans explains.

"From all those things together, we're looking to get a dramatic improvement in efficiency, and reduction in cost and environmental impact," Romans adds, noting that Fidelity's energy consciousness doesn't stop there. "Is there an opportunity to exploit the lower subterranean temperatures? Do we locate where electricity costs are lower? Do we locate where the climate is more conducive to less cooling in the computer room?" he asks. "We're even thinking about whether there can be a synergy in a cold climate between a data center in an office building and what they use to heat the building."

Blades Cut Energy Consumption

Like Fidelity, Wachovia has been targeting energy efficiency initiatives for the last 12 to 18 months or so. The initial spur was a move by the firm's traders in January to a new building in New York. "The three trading floors have relatively low ceiling heights, where it was not possible to put in a lot of air distribution, which meant we had to think creatively to ensure we don't have an unhealthy environment for the traders," relates Syd Vyas, SVP for corporate and investment banking technology. The answer, says Vyas, was to remove the desktops from traders' workstations and put Internet-based blades from Austin, Texas-based ClearCube into a separate, confined space that can be more efficiently cooled while necessitating less air conditioning on the trading floor.

Wachovia is using a similar strategy in building a new headquarters -- slated for completion in 2008 -- for its corporate and investment banking division in Charlotte, N.C., that will contain an additional three trading floors. The building itself will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified (the U.S. Green Building Council's rating system), and the trading floors will feature a similar workstation setup to the New York facility. The Charlotte trading floors, however, will utilize the second generation of IP-based blades, which offer more flexibility in terms of the distance they can be located from the trading floor than the Internet-based blades, according to Vyas, who notes that Wachovia has been testing Hewlett-Packard blades.

The firm also will deploy the lowest wattage processors it can. "AMD beats Intel in this space big time," contends Vyas. "So when we're testing our next-generation blades, we're definitely focusing on those processors." When the refresh time comes for the New York trading floor, Vyas adds, Wachovia will install the new blades there as well.

The second stream of development is then to virtualize the blades, allowing multiple traders to share those and thus reduce the total number needed. "In the past, each trader had one or two blades, or one or two computers," says Vyas. "If we can virtualize the blades and give them half the processor, or a single processor on a dual-processor blade, that's now two traders or two salespeople sharing one blade."

And the third component of Wachovia's strategy is to harness the idle power of its computers by distributing jobs using grid technology. "With virtualization, and having better CPU management and better monitoring of those CPUs, we'll be able to distribute more jobs on the users' workstations," says Vyas. As a result, Wachovia won't have to buy more blades or dedicated computers for its grid processing.

Becoming more energy efficient is a win-win for both the company's bottom line and the environment, Vyas stresses. "Rather than having 95 watts per square foot, if you can have the data center designed for 40 watts per square foot, you immediately halve the cost of cooling and the power requirement," he explains.

Curbing the Energy Appetite

Another company that is committed to a greener future is Citigroup. "You've got to have good business practices to run your buildings efficiently, but we also keep an eye on the environmental impact of anything we do," says Stephen Lane, EVP with Citigroup Realty Services.

According to Lane, the company's goal is for all new construction to meet LEED certification. In addition, the group is starting to look at LEED certification for its 14,000 existing facilities worldwide. "That is to make sure we don't leave any stone unturned when it comes to energy efficiency," Lane says.

Citigroup is rolling out its global data center strategy, a process that will continue over the next few years and will see the group consolidate the number of data centers it has into fewer, more-efficient facilities. "In a few years we'll have less than half the number we have now," says Jack Glass, SVP in the Citigroup technology infrastructure organization. And while some existing facilities already have been transformed, the trend is toward purpose-built, energy-efficient data centers, he adds.

One such example is the new facility being built in Columbus, Ohio. While Citigroup is pursuing an environmentally friendly strategy in the actual construction of the facility, such as requiring the contractor to recycle waste materials and designing windows to reduce heat gain inside the facility, it also is pursuing initiatives to use more energy-efficient technology inside its data center, relates Glass.

For example, Citigroup favors hardware suppliers that use variable speed fans in their hardware, which makes the cooling more efficient and uses less power, Glass notes. "That is going to help us curb the energy appetite of our data centers in particular," he says. "We're also seeing the chip technology allowing multiple applications to run on the same chip, so that should reduce the number of individual servers we have to deploy in the data centers. And we're seeing a focus on more-efficient information storage technology, so we can reduce the amount of storage and the amount of hardware, which ultimately reduces the amount of power that would be used in the data centers." <<<

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