AOL unplugs 10,000 servers, saves $5 million

AOL said it decommissioned a quarter of its servers to win the Uptime Institute's first Server Roundup Contest

AOL decommissioned almost 10,000 servers and saved itself $5 million along the way to winning a contest that highlights the cost of running inefficient or underutilized IT equipment.

Decommissioning a 1U rack server can save a company $500 a year in energy costs, $500 in OS licenses and $1,500 in hardware maintenance costs, according to Uptime Institute, the industry group that organized the competition, which it called the Server Roundup Contest.

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Companies that took part could move workloads to newer, virtualized equipment or into the cloud. They had to provide paperwork to verify what they had done, such as work requests and recycling receipts, as well as photographs.

AOL decommissioned 9,484 servers last year, or about a quarter of its servers worldwide, the Institute said. Its savings included $1.65 million in energy bills, $2.2 million in OS licenses and $62,000 in hardware maintenance costs. It also gained $1.2 million from scrap and resale, and reduced its carbon emissions by 20 million tons.

Many of the servers had to be replaced because they weren't compatible with the internal cloud environment that AOL has built to support its push into content and digital advertising, said Brenda Rian, AOL's senior manager, Environmental Health & Safety.

Others were running older, underused Web applications. One server was hosting an Olympic figure-skating message board with only 530 users, so that app was moved elsewhere. Others were running applications left over from when AOL was part of Time Warner.

Although it decommissioned nearly 10,000 servers, AOL bought new hardware to replace most of them, so on balance it reduced its server count by only about 1,000. But the new gear is virtualized and more energy-efficient, which reduced AOL's utility bills, Rian said.

Its net savings came to about $4 million, including $2.2 million in software licenses from migrating away from its Sybase database applications, she said.

AOL beat five other competitors; the closest runner-up, NBCUniversal, removed 284 servers. AOL put together a video to celebrate its win.

The Uptime Institute manages the data-center tiering system. Its symposium for data-center managers takes place in May in Santa Clara, California.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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