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Green Data Centers Sprouting Across the Land

Joe McKendrick
Insurance Experts' Forum, February 3, 2010

Going to DisneyWorld to see ...  a data center? 

This week, IBM Corp. opened up a new pavilion at Epcot Center, which focuses on its “SmarterPlanet” initiatives—green, collaborative and intelligent technologies. At the center of the Epcot exhibit is its green data center, based on the latest energy-efficient technologies and IBM's Scalable Modular Data Center concept. The green data center also features a cloud computing demonstration. And, in the true spirit of green, IBM will donate unused computing resources to the World Community Grid, which allocates thousands of computers from around the world to accelerate medical, humanitarian and environmental research.

The green data center concept is catching on with insurance industry executives as well. Last year, Allstate opened a green data center in Rochelle, Ill., which incorporates a range of best practices and state-of-the-art technology aimed at saving energy and employing renewable resources. As shown in a video of the site, the windows are huge—floor-to-ceiling, to let natural light in and save lighting costs. Window louvers are adjusted to meet the optimum times and days when sunlight hits the building. The roof has a white reflective surface that helps deflect heat and light and sun in the summer months. As the narrator explains in the video tour, “We evaluate all of our hardware to make sure its the most energy efficient available. We look at everything from the temperature and the volume of the cold air coming up from the floor, to the amount of power that every piece of equipment consumers.”

Anthony Abbattista, VP of technology solutions for Allstate, talked about the green data center initiative in a Tech Republic interview published last week. The Rochelle data center is part of a consolidation from four to two centers.

Each of the new adaptations in the green data center required a hard cost-benefit analysis to determine if there would be payback within at least 20 years, he explained. “Our expectation is to get at least 20 years from the building and the capital improvements from a fiscal perspective, so with that in mind, we started off with a good amount of green in the proposal: variable-speed equipment, chillers and other details we already knew how to do right from experience with our other facilities.”

In terms of technologies inside, Abbattista says most of the data center is based on Windows and Unix servers running on virtualized platforms. “In a lot of data centers without virtualization, you’re eating up both floor space and kilowatt-hours with largely underutilized gear,” he says. Plus, the Allstate team sought to tackle another space hog—storage systems—by employing a multi-tier strategy to “thin provision” gigabytes, which is essentially a form of just-in-time storage, versus allocating blocks of storage up front for systems or business units.

Data center cooling is about as natural as you can get, he says. “The real trick there is to get free cooling days, which means on a cooler day we’re just circulating chilled water and opening a window, so to speak.”

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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