Standing Out in a Sea of Green IT: IBM’s Scalable Modular Data Centers for Midsize Companies

As a follow up to my post What Is Green IT and Why Should You Care?, I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Sams, VP for IBM’s Global Site and Facilities Services, along with several other members of IBM’s green team. As part of its Smarter Planet mission, IBM is active on all fronts in the green IT movement, with many technology-related products and services that help companies be more environmentally responsible.

We discussed several of these, from desktop virtualization to supply chain and transportation management. One of the initiatives that I was most interested in is IBM’s Scalable Modular Data Center (SMDC) for midsize companies. SMDC provides end-to-end consulting and implementation services (including planning, design, construction and full production testing) to help firms run their IT operations in a greener, more cost-efficient way. Despite the sluggish economic recovery, take up for the service has been phenomenal. Since announcing SMDC about 30 months ago, IBM has implemented more than 200 scalable modular data centers for midsize organizations, and helped another 200 to 300 customers a year to restructure existing facilities to achieve energy and cost savings and improve IT reliability and performance.

With so many green IT offerings vying for midsize customers’ attention, why is SMDC gaining so much momentum? I see a few key ways in which this solution stands out in the sea of green IT, including:

  • Connecting the dots to illustrate big picture value. Many companies want to reduce their carbon footprint, but they also need a clear and compelling connection between energy-efficiency and financial and IT performance gains. IBM has developed a strong business case for SMDC and provided customer metrics to back it up. For example, IBM and Business Partner American Power Conversion (APC) worked with Bryant University, a small private college in Rhode Island, to improve IT service levels, cut energy costs and reduce operational costs.  Bryant replaced four server rooms—none of which were providing the reliability and performance it needed—with a SMDC. As a result, Bryant has reduced energy consumption by 15% and operational costs by 21%, while providing a 12 to 15% improvement in service delivery.
  • Starting with an upfront assessment service to determine if a company can stretch the life of an existing facility, or if it needs to build a new one. The first question the SMDC service helps customers answer is whether they can retrofit an existing facility to achieve the reliability gains and energy and cost efficiencies they need, or if they need to replace it.

If the customer has a traditional data center, IBM can often help the customer redesign it to increase utilization and efficiency. According to Steve Sams, most organizations use only 10% to 20% of their available technology capacity—and sometimes utilization is as low as 5%. Servers are cheap, so customers often end up just adding more servers to satisfy different requirements, without regard to the total operational costs. As a result, a company may be spending up to ten times more than they need on software licenses, maintenance, management, etc. As alarmingly, they also overspend on energy to power, heat and cool under-utilized equipment and space. In many cases, IBM can help customers use existing space and technology assets more efficiently. Simple things, such as turning up the temperature in the data center, moving things around for better airflow, and consolidating servers can generate up to 23% in energy savings, and about 40% to 50% of the total operational costs of the running the data center.

In other cases, such as with Bryant University, the organization doesn’t have a purpose-built data center. Servers, storage and networking gear are stashed in closets or spare office space. IBM helps them to replace this type of jury-rigged space with a modular data center that reduces energy costs up to 15% and improves IT reliability and performance.

  • Centering design on midsize business requirements. SMDC services can serve companies with data center needs as small as 500 square feet. When a customer needs to start from scratch, SMDC provides a modular approach. New space can be added as needed in a plug and play fashion. With this approach, companies can reduce upfront capital costs by as much as 25%, and shrink ongoing expenses for electricity, maintenance, and energy consumption by 15%.
  • End-to-end project lifecycle support. In addition to technology and energy assessment and implementation services, IBM provides data center construction planning when required. While Big Blue doesn’t pour concrete, it does develop design criteria and specifications, and provides a construction project manager to run the project. This includes monitoring and managing recycling for both construction material, such as steel and wood, as well as IT equipment. This end-to-end engagement is an important value-add for midsize companies.
  • Helping to overcome cultural obstacles. Politics is often the obstacle that stops companies from making strides to consolidate IT operations in a more environmentally friendly facility. In some cases, strong business owner across different functions or departments want to control “their own IT”. They don’t want to let go of physical and operational control of IT infrastructure. IBM consulting services can provide companies with the facts and data points to convince skeptics of the business benefits of streamlining and centralizing IT facilities. Stakeholders can improve energy efficiency and cut costs for the organization, and get better IT performance and reliability. Furthermore, by reducing ongoing IT facility, maintenance and energy costs, they can free up resources for new initiatives.

The bottom line is that IBM has a very good story to tell as to how SMDC can help midsize companies gain significant capital savings, reduce ongoing expenses and cut energy consumption. IBM is also currently piloting a scalable modular server room service in India. This program provides a similar approach and benefits for smaller companies, whose data center footprint needs range from 10 to 50 square meters (roughly 100 to 500 square feet). IBM recently published its first success story in this space with Karad Urban Cooperative Bank.

As this pilot wraps up in the first half of 2010, I hope to get another update from IBM so I can give you some ideas as to how smaller companies can also go green and save green. In the meantime, let me know what’s motivating your business to explore green IT solutions in this poll. [polldaddy poll=2597964]

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