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.

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