"Green" in the office or in the home often starts with the addition of recycling bins or changing to more energy efficient light bulbs. For example, an office I know well recently announced a cost cutting measure that would also be environmentally friendly. Signs were posted in all office kitchens indicating that the office was going "green" by eliminating the supply of plastic cups and that everyone should bring in their own mug.
I thought of this symbolic office initiative and how small it is while I was at HP's Analyst meeting in Boston last week and listened to Randy Mott, HP CIO, describe HP's very grand "green" data center transformation. The enormity of this transformation really got my attention. A typical enterprise data center consumes about as much energy as a small city. A lot of the energy that enters the data center is actually lost in the cooling process before it can be used to keep the servers and other technology running. HP has placed a high priority on research and innovation around blades, power, and cooling technology so that data centers can use energy more efficiently.
About three years ago, Mark Hurd, HP's CEO, looked at HP's 85 globally distributed data centers as energy consuming beasts that needed to be tamed. He challenged Randy Mott and the HP team to make the company's information infrastructure more flexible and responsive to the business while dramatically reducing the energy consumption of its data centers. And this transformation should all be completed over an eighteen month period.
HP has made tremendous progress with this transformation effort and plans to be fully operational with its six new data centers in three months time. The new data centers were built in pairs across three U.S. cities (Austin, Atlanta, and Houston). This type of transition from old to new data centers can be painful. You do not want to close down a data center until every last application has been closed out and accounted for. HP has already moved out of 32 major data centers through out the world and closed 150 server rooms.
What lessons did Mark Hurd have to tell us about HP's data center transformation? Here is what I took away as best practices:
Everyone in the company has to play a role in making transformation happen
Don't do this in a half-hearted way—you will have to retire old legacy applications
The next generation data center need to focus on automating, monitoring and controlling. It is focused on the economics of power in the data center
You need to think about this in terms of an architected infrastructure—not a single targeted project
It is pretty typical for large global organizations to have data centers distributed throughout the world. These large organizations have all seen an explosion in the amount of data needed to be managed, stored, and shared.
Some of these data centers run the risk of not having enough power to keep running in the near future. While the challenges and expense of taking on such a massive data center transformation in such a short time can not be underestimated, HP's approach can serve as a guide for other companies facing similar issues.