The green IT stars of 2011

InfoWorld's 2011 Green 15 Awards: Sustainable IT practices bring rich rewards

Anyone who has followed the InfoWorld Green 15 since its inception in 2008 will recognize familiar themes among this year's winning entries -- all the more proof that the message of sustainability is proliferating across the IT landscape.

Organizations of various stripes are realizing the value of slashing waste, saving money, and improving their environmental standing, as this year's crop of green IT projects shows. Among school districts, local and state governments, upstarts and stalwarts, clearly the lesson that green IT practices provide measurable return on investment is sinking in.

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Virtualization, PC power management, videoconferencing, paperless solutions, e-waste management, and data center efficiency technologies are once again at the center of these exemplary IT initiatives.

But one striking difference about this year's batch should be noted: A wealth of third-party products and services has emerged to help companies jump-start green IT projects. Measuring and managing data center efficiency, launching large-scale recycling efforts, taking advantage of free cooling, and going paperless -- vendors are working to meet the needs of IT organizations seeking to capitalize on sustainable practices. That's good news for organizations that don't have the internal technical know-how to build such systems themselves.

That's not to say companies aren't innovating on their own to push the green envelope. Among this year's Green 15 winners, Intel's NUMA-Booster tool helped the company claim significantly higher performance from its servers. Fujitsu, meanwhile, devised an in-house tool to create a more optimal, energy-efficient layout for its data center.

Despite the increasing availability of full-featured green-tech products and services, green IT is still not fully plug-and-play. Reaping the fruits of green IT investments is still hard work, with many organizations struggling to get buy-in and participation from management and end-users alike. As with previous Green 15 projects, this year's group has proven successful in large part because they have managed to engage the whole organization to support their endeavors.

Hats off to the hard work and just rewards of this year's Green 15.

2011 Green 15 winner: Aetna

Aetna extended its paperless mandate to become the first health insurance provider to deploy electronic contract processing for physicians, hospitals, and other health care facilities.

Built on EchoSign e-signature technology, Aetna's system enables the insurance company to complete contracts with physicians without faxing or mailing stacks of paper forms back and forth for signatures.

In addition to meeting compliance, legal, and security requirements, the system has helped Aetna cut down contract processing times, from as much as three weeks to just two or three days. Users can track the entire lifecycle of contracts online, complete with access to a full audit trail.

Aetna is extending the system to enable negotiations with providers to occur electronically, thereby further reducing contract completion times and related costs.

2011 Green 15 winner: Autodesk

Autodesk implemented worldwide virtual collaboration and telepresence technologies to cut costs, slash travel-related carbon emissions, and make bicoastal and global meetings more productive. The company's multiprong initiative included 20 Cisco TelePresence installations; more than 50 Polycom Roundtable installations; and Microsoft Office Communicator Service, for video chat, screen sharing, document sharing, and IM.

The company's Save a Million campaign educated its globally diverse workforce about the benefits and use of collaboration technology, encouraging them to save a million dollars in travel cost, pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, and minutes of productivity.

The efforts have paid off: 70 percent of Autodesk's virtual collaboration rooms are at capacity on any given day, and over 80 percent of Autodesk's employees have adopted Microsoft Office Communicator. Further, Autodesk has thus far cut monthly travel costs by 16 percent.

2011 Green 15 winner: Boulder Valley School District

The Boulder Valley School District launched a broad sustainability initiative to improve its environmental footprint and ultimately divert funds saved on energy toward better educational purposes.

The district first performed energy audits at its various schools, which includes a network of more than 10,000 computers. As a result of this audit, BVSD deployed Verismic Power Manager, which enables district IT to control the power settings of PCs districtwide from a central location.

BVSD also installed new fiber all through the district, enabling it to consolidate the workload of 125 servers previously housed among the various schools to 50 servers in a single location. As a result, the district claimed additional cost savings and easier administration.

Adhering to its vision of sustainability, the district further found a way to reduce packaging waste by requesting IT hardware vendors deliver computers and monitors on pallets instead of sending them individually. All in all, the district reports savings of around $300,000 while reducing its carbon footprint by 3,670 tons per year.

2011 Green 15 winner: The Copernicus Group Independent Review Board

Charged by the FDA to review biomedical research, the Copernicus Group Independent Review Board used to generate what amounted to a 22-foot-tall pillar of paper documents each week. Not only was the practice wasteful, the group's paper-reliant practices were highly inefficient. Today, the company is 97 percent paperless thanks to a series of IT projects culminating in a homegrown document-management portal called Connexus.

The paperless effort started in 2008 when the CGIRB installed Xerox DocuShare to manage nonregulated documents that did not required CFR-11 compliance, such as vacation requests and contracts. The CGIRB then hired an outside party to scan, index, and archive some 5 million legacy documents and publish them to DocuShare. From there, the group added the DocuShare Compliance Module for document management and collaboration.

CGRB then worked with Xerox and Sitrof to launch Connexus. The portal integrates with DocuShare, enabling clients and users to securely submit and access all document types, including those that require CFR-11 compliance. Electronic signature functionality eliminates the need to ship or fax documents back and forth to be signed with a pen.

The CGIRB paperless-office efforts have saved the organization more than $2 million on shipping, printing, postage, and file storage. Staffers can now digitally search through 5 million pages' worth of legacy documents and process client requests in 3.7 minutes on average instead of 104 minutes as had been the case in its paper-based era.

2011 Green 15 winner: Fairfax County Government

Serving one of the largest counties in the United States, the Fairfax County Government launched several IT projects to save tax dollars and decrease the county's carbon footprint, including a 1E PC power management deployment to automatically shut down 14,000-plus end-user PCs across 55 offices when not in operation.

Fairfax also deployed Nomad Enterprise to deliver operating system upgrades, software deployments, and patches to PCs, servers, and sites without disruption. What's more, the country rolled out a self-service software deployment portal through which users can locate and install software without requiring IT staff to visit their office.

The county has realized $300,000 in savings from its PC power management initiative alone. Further, the county's IT staff can spend more time working on IT duties -- and less time wasting fuel and visiting end-users to tinker with their machines.

2011 Green 15 winner: FedEx

FedEx overhauled its enterprise data center to boost capacity from 50 watts per square foot to 125 watts per square foot -- without downtime -- while embracing sustainable practices.

As part of the construction process, FedEx ensured that nearly 11 percent of the building products were regionally extracted and produced, and that 14 percent of other materials contain recycled content.

The company implemented redundant mechanical and electrical systems to yield a high level of energy efficiency while reducing costs. The data center also now houses two heat exchangers, reaping 7,100 hours of free cooling, complements of Colorado's cool, dry climate.

On the IT side, FedEx moved to a general-purpose computing platform, using commodity x86 servers each with a single 10-gig Ethernet cord for networking. The company worked to converge its server, storage, and network infrastructure, in part by revising applications to use the same database and messaging technology. All in all, FedEx squeezed the computing power of 4,000 servers into just 400 servers.

The 140,000-square-foot facility boasts a PUE of 1.28 and is a candidate for LEED Gold certification. The total project achieved an energy cost saving of 12.8 percent.

2011 Green 15 winner: Fujitsu

Drawing on software from Aperture and homegrown tools internally, Fujitsu's business units in the United Kingdom and Ireland has succeeded in gaining far deeper insight in its data center operations while finding ways to boost overall efficiency and cut costs.

The Fujitsu business units used several tools from Aperture, including Configuration Manager, Infrastructure Process Manager, and Capacity Manager, to enable the data center ops team to scrutinize the current and future usage of data center resources, extracting info such as how much floor area is in user and how many kilowatts each rack is consuming. All that data provides a way for Fujitsu to predict future power consumption and engage in more accurate capacity planning. Further, it enabled a fairer and more realistic model for charging its customers for data center and hosting services, basing charges on actual resource usage instead of the traditional service-fee model based on per square foot.

Moreover, Fujitsu used Aperture data outputs in conjunction with an internally developed tool to determine a superior data center layout and to hone energy efficiency, resulting in cost savings and a carbon footprint reduction of 2,700 metric tons per year.

2011 Green 15 winner: GE Energy

GE Energy developed REConnect, a portal to provide users with near-real-time information on wind turbine performance. In addition to maintaining the flow of clean wind-powered energy, the portal helps turbine owners and operators find the parts and services they need to keep their systems in top condition.

With REConnect, GE employees can keep tabs on the level of wind energy available and adjust as needed to meet consumer demand. Meanwhile, providers of green energy are able to scan for products and services, submit claims, and monitor fleet performance, thereby enabling them to plan and manage assets efficiently.

Delivering that much information and functionality to 1,500-plus employees and 500-plus users through a single portal is no easy task, nor is making the system flexible enough to support multiple types of turbines in various lifecycle stages. The task required integration with an array of GE's internal platforms, including identity management, ERP, product lifecycle management, document management, master data management, remote monitoring, and diagnostics.

2011 Green 15 winner: HCL Technologies

Intent on putting a dent in its carbon footprint, HCL Technologies built its own carbon-measuring and reporting system, having concluded that none of the offerings available on the market met its needs.

Dubbed Manage Carbon, the system integrates with various enterprise applications used by HCL, extracting data pertaining to energy consumption, fuel usage, travel, and so forth. Data is extracted from more than 100 campuses in and out of the company's home country of India, and is performed using a variety of methods, from database-level integration to Web-services-based integration to direct input.

The system is built primarily on open source technologies: JBoss is the JEE app server; Adobe Flex serves as the UI; jBPM handles workflow management; BIRT provides reporting; and MySQL handles database duties.

Armed with a complete view of its environmental impact, HCL has so far succeeded in reducing its carbon footprint by 15 percent.

2011 Green 15 winner: Hovnanian

Construction company Hovnanian launched a comprehensive IT overhaul comprising several green-oriented projects. At the heart of the initiative was a large-scale data center consolidation effort, though which Hovnanian IT virtualized its servers and storage, and employee desktops using Citrix HDX. The company also adopted power management software to power down PCs when not in use.

Hovnanian also invested in collaboration technologies to reduce excessive travel, including PolyCom videoconferencing, GoToMeeting for Webinars, Microsoft Communicator for IM, and Oracle Contact Center Anywhere for remote desktop support. The company developed e-learning courses, using Articulate and Adobe Captivate software, to supplement on-site instructor-led training.

All told, the initiative saved Hovnanian approximately $300,000 on server costs, $80,000 per year on electricity, and $1.2 million on travel costs, while reducing its carbon footprint by 775,000 pounds.

2011 Green 15 winner: Intel

Intel uses some 50,000 servers to perform silicon design and development tasks -- operations that grow increasingly complex each year, thereby increasing annual compute demand by 45 percent. Rather than piling more machines into its data centers, the company launched an initiative to squeeze more work out of its current fleet.

To do so, the chipmaker developed an algorithm dubbed NUMA-Booster to schedule design workloads to run more optimally than would otherwise using default OS scheduling on multicore NUMA systems. The algorithm increased server performance by 17 percent, effectively boosting the overall capacity of its server clusters by 11 percent. The company expects to see even greater gains as it retires older machines and deploys newer multicore models.

Based on the success of the pilot portion of this project, the company then worked with its finance and user groups to reduce forecasted servers and energy footprint while still meeting computing demand. 

2011 Green 15 winner: Tata Consultancy Services

Based in Chennai, India, Tata Consultancy Services realized a couple of years ago that its growing electricity demands would soon outpace the available supply. To stave off this shortage, TCS launched an initiative aimed at cutting electricity usage, associated costs, and carbon emissions.

Dubbed PowerIT, the initiative included the development of a Web-based tool for capturing and reporting daily electricity consumption across the company's various work centers. The tool has enabled TCA to unlock its energy consumption patterns, a critical step in reducing usage.

The PowerIT team has used social media, pop-up messages, contests, and brainstorming sessions to push energy-saving practices and to generate new ones -- including consolidating weekend work into a single building and powering down PCs when not in use.

TCS has also worked to evaluate vendors based on the power efficiency of their products and to embrace green practices within its various data centers, such as virtualization and application scheduling to use idle computing time.

TCS saw a 9 percent savings in energy consumption in a controlled environment without any major financial investment. Once the company expanded the initiative to its 84 development centers across India and made a greater financial investment, it realized a 16 percent energy savings.

2011 Green 15 winner: Telenor Norway

Telenor Norway opted for a more responsible approach to decommissioning 9,500 base stations as part of a massive upgrade of its wireless and core networks. Rather than selling equipment to recyclers for pennies on the dollar, the company launched a reuse strategy that greatly reduced the environmental impact of transporting and disposing retired gear.

Telenor Norway enlisted SaaS provider Trade Wings as its reuse-strategy partner. Trade Wings' Re:source Visibility service enabled Telenor Norway to track existing network assets -- from active to excess or decommissioned -- throughout its supply chain.

Using the system, de-installed equipment data is captured at a central collection site in Oslo warehouse for real-time visibility. The system's disposition engine then checks against demand for each piece of equipment, determining whether it should be resold, recycled locally to extract precious metals (and limit transportation), or stored for reuse in one of Telenor Group's mobile networks.

Telenor's approach to dealing with decommissioned assets has helped the company reduce carbon emissions associated with transportation while squeezing the most value out of each piece of equipment it owns. All told, the initiative is expected to save Telenor nearly $9 million.

2011 Green 15 winner: West Virginia Office of Technology

Tax dollars in West Virginia are being used more efficiently, thanks to a series of green IT investments by the state's office of technology.

On the desktop level, the WVOT deployed 1E PC power management software to 15,000-plus computers, spread among 75 agencies at 1,075 locations. Automating PC shutdowns will save the state an estimated $500,000 per year by 2012. The state is also exploring the use of virtual desktops to reduce energy consumption costs even more.

On the back end, the WVOT launched a consolidation and virtualization effort, migrating 17,000 of the 20,000 state agency employees from a variety of disparate email systems to a central email environment, resulting in a significant reduction of legacy servers.

The WVOT's 1E Nomad Enterprise deployment for delivering patches, software, and OS upgrades has saved the state from investing in hundreds of new servers for its remote locations. The rollout of centralized Web and voice services, videoconferencing systems, and desktop e-faxing has also increased worker productivity, while saving the state significant expenses through reduced travel.

2011 Green 15 winner: Xiolink

Data center operator Xiolink fully embraced the concept of sustainability in building its new data center in St. Louis: Rather than constructing an entirely new facility, the company opted to renovate a historic downtown building -- previously home to the St. Louis Dispatch -- that had been vacant for nearly a decade.

Xiolink deployed an array of state-of-the-art technologies and green computing practices to make its data center energy efficient. For example, the facility's HVAC systems draws on outside air as temperature permits and uses variable frequency drives to adjust the speeds of pumps, motors, and fans, making the act of cooling 40 percent more energy efficient than with traditional CRAC systems.

The facility boasts hot and cold aisles, along with PVC curtains to prevent air from mixing, and its UPS system, the Eaton 9395, operates at 94-plus percent efficiency, requiring less power and running cooler than standard models, while taking up 50 percent less floor space.

For power distribution, Xiolink went with a power plug-in raceway, a reliable modular system that allows the operator to add extra circuits and change power without delays.

This article, "The green IT stars of 2011," originally appeared at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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