Published on 29 Oct 2010
"We don’t implement technology for technology’s sake. A new technology solution has to have direct and immediate benefits to the business when we deploy it." - Daniel Brown, business technology executive for infrastructure, Xcel Energy
Energy & Utilities
Dynamic Infrastructure, Energy Efficiency, Green/Sustainability
This case study provides an overview of the high-density zone cooling system IBM and alliance partner APC deployed for Xcel Energy and its Business Solutions Group.
Confronted with aging systems and data center design limitations, an energy provider seeks a highly efficient cooling solution to support a systems refresh—without a data center redesign.
IBM Global Technology Services deploys a high-density zone cooling system within the existing data center footprint, reducing energy costs, increasing available space, system and power efficiencies.
Power consumption drops by five percent, and hardware, software and floor space costs are reduced with server virtualization. Chilled-water cooling helps avoid an expensive data center remodel.
Xcel Energy, a major energy producer headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, prides itself on using innovative methods to reliably produce and deliver power to its 3.4 million electricity and 1.9 million natural gas customers in eight western and midwestern states. As the nation’s number one wind energy provider and fifth in solar capacity, the company is passionate about natural resource conservation and environmental stewardship. Customers and residents alike value these efforts—especially the native eagles, falcons, kestrels, osprey and owls that cohabitate with its power facilities. In fact, the Xcel Energy website provides customers with a plethora of energy-saving tips and features a “Bird Cam” visitors can use to view protected indigenous bird populations.
Circumventing obstacles to innovation
The Business Systems group, the information technology arm of Xcel Energy, exemplifies the same passion for conservation of power, capital and resources. It recognized that many of the headquarter’s server and storage systems had reached end of life. The outdated data center equipment used more energy, was expensive to maintain and posed a greater risk for downtime. In response, Xcel Energy allocated funding for a systems refresh. “We don’t implement technology for technology’s sake,” says Daniel Brown, business technology executive for infrastructure. “A new technology solution has to have direct and immediate benefit to the business.”
The Xcel Energy team formulated a plan to consolidate, virtualize and refresh using high-density blade servers and storage systems. However, for the data center to continue as an operations and disaster recovery site, its cooling systems would have to be redesigned to manage the heat levels these new systems would introduce into the environment.
As a long-time IBM customer, Xcel Energy turned to the site and facilities team to help assess and determine upgrade options.
Achieving superior temperature control
The existing data center had a 12-inch raised floor and thousands of feet of old cabling stored beneath it, restricting the facility’s cooling capability. To strengthen the perimeter computer room air conditioner cooling configuration for the new equipment, the floors would have to be raised another foot, impacting ductwork, piping, lighting and the budget. This would also disrupt business operations, especially to the active call center directly below. Another big catch: The work would have to be completed three months from the contract date.
IBM had a different approach. Using a high-density zone (HDZ) solution, IBM showed Xcel Energy that it could rapidly deploy a modular, hot aisle/cold aisle, closely coupled chilled water (CCCW) cooling configuration that would not require changes to the current floor height. In addition, the HDZ solution could help reduce the data center’s energy cost by about five percent and free up more than 2,000 square feet of valuable floor space. The plug-and-play design would also scale to meet changing requirements or easily “right-size” the cooling environment. “IBM described the capabilities and benefits,” Brown recounts. “It was easy to see how we could gain energy efficiencies and meet our deadline.”
The IBM and Xcel Energy teams quickly got to work along with IBM alliance partner APC. “IBM and APC understood they could add value and were able to customize a solution that worked best for our data center design,” Brown explained.
Although the HDZ components are pre-engineered and tested, they needed to be configured properly. IBM evaluated the space, redundancy and resiliency requirements, as well as existing mechanical and electrical systems to determine how to best support cooling solutions for the 40 IBM BladeCenter® server racks to be located within the 13,200 square foot data center. The flexible HDZ solution selected had a minimal impact on the physical infrastructure.
With the larger equipment and site refresh underway, the Xcel Energy data center was a hub of activity, especially since the business operations needed to remain fully functional. Brown said, “IBM brought it all together—design, project planning services and the right alliance partner.” Despite the hectic schedule (weekends and holidays) and often chaotic conditions in the data center during renovations, the IBM project met the deadlines for implementation, testing and startup.
Promoting efficiency, conserving capital and setting an example
The Xcel Energy Business Systems team reported measurable improvements within weeks of the project completion, including a five percent reduction in data center energy consumption. “We have to be an example to our customers,” Brown says. “Now we can demonstrate how to efficiently use new data center technology in concert with the various energy resources we offer.” In less than three months, the reconfigured data center runs five percent fewer applications, has 80 fewer Windows® and Linux® servers, more available floor space, reduced software licensing costs and decreased power and cooling costs. With the IBM System p® and IBM BladeCenter® servers’ virtualization capabilities, Xcel Energy is on track to decommission up to 150 additional servers.
Pleased with its experience with IBM, the company hopes to renovate a 27,000-square-foot Colorado data center in the future. “As a regulated entity, we are stewards of our customers’ investments,” Brown says. “With this project, we realized a great return on our investment.”
For more information
To learn more about the IBM Site and Facilities Services, please contact your IBM marketing representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit the following website: ibm.com/services/siteandfacilities
IBM products and services that were used in this case study.
GTS ITS Site & Facilities: IT Facilities Assess/Design/Constr, GTS Data Center Services
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