2008 InfoWorld CTO 25: Jim Smith, Digital Realty Trust

A focus on the scientific method led to truly effective green datacenter strategies

Jim Smith has been advocating green computing long before it was about being "green" -- that is, about reducing carbon emissions. Rather, the vice president of engineering at Digital Realty Trust views designing datacenters to run as efficiently as possible as a smart business strategy. Yes, cutting waste and getting the most from your resources is good for the environment -- but it has an uncanny way of bolstering the bottom line.

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Smith's background in science -- he was originally educated as a chemist -- coupled with his formal training in business and various areas of technology, has served him well in his role at Digital Realty, the largest independent owner and operator of datacenter facilities in the world.

[ Discover what insights you can take advantage of from the other 2008 InfoWorld CTO 25 winners. ]

They've driven him to pursue cost-saving, waste-trimming strategies by challenging accepted datacenter best practices. "Put a challenge in front of someone like me, and I'll say, 'Show me the calculations,'" says Smith. "I want to fight and argue about the numbers."

Through questioning and testing, Smith has indeed found that some accepted best practices really aren't the best. He's then used his findings to help the company come up with ways to wring more work out of a datacenter's energy budget and footprint than other datacenter architects might have ever dreamed possible.

For example, he's found that using air handlers with variable-speed drives can put a significant dent in cooling costs. He's also been a catalyst in incorporating "free cooling" -- that is, cooling using outside air -- at a soon-to-open datacenter in Santa Clara, Calif., which will cut costs by an anticipated 20 to 25 percent.

Moreover, Smith has led the charge in adopting LEED practices in constructing datacenters, resulting in the completion of the world's first LEED gold-certified datacenter in Chicago last year. He says using LEED practices can have a profound impact on reducing waste, not just in terms of improving energy efficiency but addressing light pollution as well as water and waste management. The company will be opening the doors of more LEED gold facilities in the near future -- and other companies have been following suit.

Fortunately for the rest of industry, Smith doesn't keep his insights and discoveries to himself. In fact, he's become something of an icon in the tech world as he was among the first -- if not the first -- people in the industry to speak openly about the inner workings of an efficient datacenter at free how-to seminars and green computing forums, as well as through free Webinars. "His efforts help datacenter professionals learn about green best practices and how to make the business case to executives in the boardroom," notes Michael F. Foust, CEO of Digital Realty Trust.

Speaking of first, Digital Realty was the first company in the industry to adopt a standard for measuring datacenter efficiency (PUE), the first to publish that data for use by customers and the industry, and the first to adopt a number of green best practices across its portfolio of properties -- all efforts spurred by Smith.

Moreover, Smith spends ample time assisting The Green Grid and BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) efforts in Europe to establish smart datacenter standards in the United States and the European Union, bringing to the table his highly sought expertise about the facilities side of datacenter operations.

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