Q&A: Steven L. Sams, IBM VP of Site and Facility Services

How did you develop an interest in Green IT?

We found there were a number of customer issues bubbling up that turned out to center around energy inefficiency. It was becoming a huge inhibitor to the future capability of IT to continue to provide more productivity and capabilities, and we wanted to find ways to address that problem.

How do you define Green IT?

Green IT is anything that can be done to cut down waste of all kinds committed by IT.
The IT explosion is continuing. One estimate says that in this decade, the average data center will increase its server capacity by six times and its storage capacity by 69 times. That increase is creating an explosion in the use of energy. In data centers energy use is doubling every five years, and it represents 2 percent of the total energy use on the planet. The UN estimates that worldwide energy use will increase by 50 percent by 2030. It all means IT will represent 12 percent of all the energy use of the planet by then.

How do you attack the problem?

By focusing on reengineering data centers. A typical data center uses 30 to 80 times the power per square foot of a typical office. It¿s an energy hog. In a data center, 40 to 50 percent of the energy is consumed by the gear itself, with the rest being consumed by the center¿s infrastructure, everything from cooling systems and generators to uninterruptible power supplies.

Do you talk more about saving energy or saving money?
 
Both. When a company builds a big data center, the cost to run it for the next 20 years will be about five times what it cost to build, and about 75 percent of that cost is energy. One of our largest clients was consuming as much energy in its data centers as the entire state of Connecticut. We can typically reduce that energy consumption by 40 percent, potentially saving a big client hundreds of millions of dollars over time. 

So the ROI is readily apparent?

We find that energy efficiency metrics are also good operational efficiency metrics. Green IT makes for better-run corporations.

What kinds of skills should Green IT experts have?

This area covers both engineering and IT. On the engineering side of the equation, we need mechanical engineers to design power and cooling systems, and we need electrical engineers for electrical design of efficient technologies. On the IT side we need strong operational skills and people who can build software packages that provide clients a best-of-breed dashboard to give them real-time information. Our clients are really lacking data. They don’t know where they can improve. Our engineers build apps to help them monitor and eventually automate these savings.

What’s that automation about?

It’s very exciting. For example, in a bank, many applications start to wane at the end of the day. Why not migrate those apps to smaller servers at an appointed time and then power down the big servers until they’re needed again?

What about cloud computing?

It’s clearly one of the solutions that we’ll all move to eventually. Every one of the virtualization schemes that tries to run multiple apps on individual devices is a movement toward a cloud environment. If we are all using an asset at 5 to 10 percent of its capacity, and we eliminate 30 to 40 percent of the assets and run what’s left at higher capacity, we’re improving efficiency. It’s like public transit for technology. Why buy your own car if you have other cheaper methods of getting where you need to go?

What should college students who are interested in this field study?

You might be surprised to hear me say international relations. Data center environments are growing very rapidly, but they’re growing the fastest in China, India, and central and Eastern Europe, where the applications are large and sophisticated, and domestic needs are growing rapidly. The largest telecom companies, insurance firms, and banks are in Asia right now, and they’re expanding and facing the same issues. These aren’t local problems, they’re international problems, and they’ll get solved in many places around the world in many ways. I would encourage people to get a view of the world, not of just their own town or state.

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