California Academy of Sciences reaps efficiencies through network convergence

2009 Green 15: Switching to IP-based services saved the Academy more than $1 million in redundant equipment and cabling

From top to bottom, San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences (CAS) has shaped up to be the greenest building in the City by the Bay. For example, it's expected to use 50 percent less energy than California codes allow a standard building to consume. Although some of that greenness can be attributed to factors such as architectural design and usage of clean energy -- the building has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) Platinum design rating, for example -- IT elements are playing their part as well.

Based in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the facility encompasses a museum of natural history, a planetarium, and an aquarium, all under one living roof. CAS enlisted Teecom Design Group to apply a green mindset to the IT infrastructure of the facility.

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One of the company's techniques was to eliminate redundant backbone systems by making them all IP-based, says David Marks, a principal at Teecom. That includes the building's telecommunication systems -- which now run over VoIP -- as well as security, lighting, and temperature controls (including for the fish tanks), and audio/visual. Traditionally, each system would have required its own dedicated, independent equipment and wiring. "We've eliminated redundant systems and different conduits and backbone cabling. All you have in the building now is a data network with a few more connections," Marks says.

The approach resulted in significant savings, according to Marks. "For the AV system, for example, we saved over $1 million in conduits, cabling, and equipment by migrating to the network," he said. "All the sound and video displays that used to run through proprietary cables can be pushed over the network now."

All in all, Teecom's design saved the Academy more than $2.3 million in material costs and more than $875,000 per year in recurring costs.

[ Learn more about how a converged network can help reap efficiencies and savings. ]

Beyond saving money and reducing waste, centralizing the various systems eases management, he notes. If, say, an exhibit goes down, it can be fixed quickly in the datacenter with a backup server, rather than requiring an admin to go to the proper floor in search of the rogue server in order to perform maintenance.

Within the Academy's two datacenters (a pair is necessary due to space constraints), CAS is leveraging some popular and useful green technologies to keep energy waste down. Among them is virtualization, which is used to "consolidate a number of different applications down to one to just a few servers," Marks notes.

Moreover, the Bay Area's mild climate lets CAS take advantage of free cooling through air-side economizers -- a nice alternative to spending thousands of dollars keeping computer-room air conditioner systems running continually to keep machines sufficiently cool.

The green technologies being put to work at the CAS facility don't end there. The facility has also found ways to reduce paper waste. For example, visitors approaching the facility can purchase electronic tickets wirelessly, which not only saves time but saves on tree pulp and ink. Visitors can also download guides onto their portable devices, meaning they can forgo a printed version.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.