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Citi's Green Data Centers Provide Environmental and Business Benefits

Citi has completed three LEED-certified energy-efficient data centers and is sticking to its $50 billion commitment to environmental efforts, which it says make good business sense.

Citi's $450 million Georgetown, Texas, data center was one of the first newly constructed data centers in the world to receive LEED gold certification. According to the bank, green features at this location include programs that alert operators if mechanical and electrical systems are not operating at their optimal efficiency, pollution controls on the generators that remove 90 percent of the nitrogen oxides from the exhaust, and native landscaping and irrigation systems designed to reduce irrigation water consumption by 50 percent. About 50 employees work in the 305,000-square-foot facility, which houses Citi computer systems and components.

Citi's other gold-LEED-certified data center in Singapore features a state-of-the-art air conditioning system that regulates the supply of cold air on various fans and motors, thus minimizing power consumption and impact on the environment, the firm says. A reduced lighting grid and a high-tension power supply with a dynamic Uninterruptable Power Supply system was also installed to reduce required electrical supply by 8 percent while delivering the same amount of power. This helped eliminate the need for batteries as a backup power source, another green benefit.

Citi's Corporate Mandate

Citi's green data centers are part of a broader corporate initiative toward sustainability and corporate responsibility. In 2006 Citi set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions globally by 10 percent by 2011 and in 2007 the firm committed $50 billion toward supporting environmentally friendly initiatives including $10 billion to reduce its corporate environmental footprint through new procurement procedures, minimized energy use and its own real estate portfolio.

These goals were set in flusher, less-troubled times for Citi and the financial services industry. "The driver for us goes back to the 2003-2004 timeframe, when Citi was faced with issues that came out of an interagency white paper," says Carney, referring to the post-9/11, "Sound Practices to Strengthen the Resilience of the U.S. Financial System" report, which required financial firms to move their core processing areas away from the metropolitan New York area (a requirement that even then-Sheriff-of-Wall-Street Eliot Spitzer complained was too onerous, although he may have simply been trying to preserve local jobs and tax revenue).

As a result, Citi was forced to rethink its data center strategy. "At the time, Citigroup was a collection of many firms that came together. We inherited a lot of data centers that weren't the most efficient," Carney relates. "We looked at our data center footprint and saw that we had 52 around the world. We did an analysis of what we could shrink down to and came up with a target of 14 core data centers and 10 secondary satellite centers by 2010. That's quite a reduction." Currently, Citi's data center count is 32.

As the company created its new data center blueprint, determining the right locations and capacities for each facility, Carney and Killey set goals for themselves of using good engineering practices and of minimizing energy consumption. "We selected LEED as a way to measure ourselves," Carney says.

The strategy makes good business sense, Killey stresses. "We achieve energy savings, and as we go into environments such as Europe, which in the near future will operate under cap-and-trade rules, we won't have to pay the high cost of carbon emissions." (Cap-and-trade rules establish a cap on annual emissions, identify those entities whose emissions will be regulated, and set rules for buying and selling carbon credits or allowances.)

In a variation of the trend toward pod configurations in data centers, where server and storage racks are encased in individually cooled and powered containers, Citi breaks up its data center buildings into smaller sections that each house certain technologies, Killey relates. One might house blade servers and large storage devices that produce a lot of heat and require a great deal of cooling, another might contain network devices that run at a lower wattage. "We can optimize the cooling to meet the IT load," he says.

Building new, green data centers from scratch is the easy part, the Citi executives say. "The hardest part is to migrate and move technologies from the legacy sites to these new sites," Carney says. "In Citi, IT sustainability is not just, 'Did you build the most efficient data center?' But, 'Have you migrated it in the most efficient way?' When we move technology, we shrink the hardware to the smallest possible physical footprint, using virtualization and network redesigns." In fact, Carney notes, the firm will only deploy virtual servers, unless there are technical limitations to certain application performance, and views its virtualization environment as an internal cloud.

And Citi's IT sustainability efforts reach beyond the data centers. "We are running a large desktop strategic initiative," Carney comments. "We're trying to bring desktop computing assets back to the data center and leave just thin clients on the desktop."

In addition, under an alternative work strategies program, 20 percent to 30 percent of Citi's North American employees work from home and about 10 percent to 12 percent of staff work remotely around the world. "I have people who work for me in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who I not only never see but have never met, and they do great work," Killey says. "In our London office we have 20 percent fewer desks than people who work for us; this allows us to reduce our real estate and environmental footprint."

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/2/2013 | 1:21:24 AM
re: Citi's Green Data Centers Provide Environmental and Business Benefits
This is a great story. I have heard of the living roof systems before, but didn't realize the impact they could have in going green. And the use of the reverse osmosis system to reduce water waste is another great idea. More companies need to follow suit to better our environment.
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