Achieving Energy Efficiency across Campus

Richard Siedzik is Director of Computer and Telecommunications Services at Bryant University.

Key Takeaways

  • Connecting the IT and facilities departments at the outset of a project that will affect energy use on campus establishes the foundation for successfully achieving energy efficiency.
  • This collaboration between the units that contribute to and affect a college campus's energy use and efficiency was a direct factor in the energy and cost reductions realized at Bryant University.
  • Selecting the right vendors and consultants is another major success factor, because the equipment implemented today will directly affect future performance.

Seven years ago, Bryant University began to realize the problems with distributed infrastructure when implementing an ERP system. At that time, the university had 78 servers distributed across campus in offices or closets, with maintenance handled by students or professionals. The campus also dealt with multiple network vendors. The infrastructure — the network — was key to centralizing technology services, with consolidation of servers the first priority.

Five years ago, the university set out to address the campus's need for a complete data center overhaul, with the objective of combining three separate computer rooms into one central data center with upgraded equipment. The IT department's main goal at the outset of the project was to increase energy efficiencies in the data center in the most cost-effective way. Throughout the process, collaboration between the different departments across Bryant's campus was a crucial element for turning a strategy of energy efficiency into a cost and energy savings reality. Another key element was finding the right vendors to help carry out our vision.

Revamping the Data Center

In addition to energy efficiency, other goals in the initial planning stages for the data center overhaul were consolidation, centralization, and virtualization. Another key element — a must-have for the team — was relevance for future growth and build-out, for at least five years. In 2007 the search began for a partner to facilitate the entire process, with Schneider Electric chosen.  After considering proposals from several different vendors and consulting groups, IBM was selected as the general contractor to implement an APC by Schneider Electric data center infrastructure design.

Consolidation of the various computer rooms within the data center facility included the addition of new technologies that helped boost optimization of resources, lower energy consumption, and improve visibility into asset utilization. These solutions included:

  • InfraStruxure, an integrated, modular IT room architecture for high-density applications, with UPS, InRow Cooling, and IT racks
  • StruxureWare Central, a scalable data center monitoring system
  • Overhead cabling and piping to eliminate the need for a raised floor
  • Chiller and diesel generator

The following video highlights the main drivers behind the data center, the university's forethought about energy efficiency, and opportunities we hoped to realize, confirming results met expectations (4:01 minutes): View video

Another strategic move was the integration of Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM), an automated solution designed to address the ongoing challenges presented by the new data center consolidation. These DCIM tools enable Bryant University's IT team to seamlessly provision space and power supply as needed within the data center environment. For example, one tool enables more rapid server deployment by allowing the IT team to input server specs for new hardware into StruxureWare Central, as well as the energy efficiency software solutions StruxureWare Operations and InfraStruxure Data Center Lab to identify the most appropriate location for the new server.

The DCIM tools also allow the IT team to explore additional modes of streamlining processes in the new data center. The consulting team from Schneider Electric helped speed up the implementation and provisioning of new services, applications, and infrastructure by populating the software with data in a matter of days — a process that would have taken the IT department months, given the limited resources available. These software tools are also used continuously to test various scenarios, including potential fan failures and the peak temperatures racks could reach with cooling equipment failure. The tests enable the university to identify and avoid potential power and cooling problems normally associated with the relocation of servers within live data center environments.

The dashboard in Figure 1 shows the power usage effectiveness (PUE) of the new data center.

Siedzik Figure 1
Figure 1. Current PUE at Bryant University's Data Center

When the project began, distributed data storage space was about 1,200 square feet; the consolidated data center is 500 square feet. Depending how much virtualization the campus achieves, the space for expansion in the new data center will suffice for another three to four years.

Video tour of Bryant University's new data center (7:09 minutes):

Note: Video of Brian Kraemer, associate editor, and Zach Church, news writer, for speaking with the Bryant University VP of Information Services and CIO Arthur Foster and author Rich Siedzik, including a tour of the university's new data center.

Collaborate for Success

The facilities department looked at the energy consumption numbers for the new data center and approached IT, astonished at the reduction in operational expenses. Facilities told us they were observing a monthly decrease in energy consumption of about 20 percent following the introduction of the new data center and the decommissioning of the old space and infrastructure. The following question arose naturally: "How do we take these best practices and put them into play outside of the data center?"

The university saw an opportunity to extend the data center's successes. All parties involved, including relevant administrative offices, realized that the first step was to bring together the separate IT and facilities units and figure out how to amplify the cost and energy savings the data center project had accomplished, with the goal of replicating them across the entire campus. The two departments had to strategize on how to apply the same methodology and possibly the same tool sets used inside the data center across campus.

Bryant University isn't alone in finding cross-departmental collaboration directly contributing to the effectiveness and productivity of energy efficiency strategies, with IT and facilities departments finding themselves in a "marriage of proximity": Wherever IT equipment is located, the facilities department also has a presence and vice versa, especially now that the entire campus is connected through one network. Teamwork, open communication, and ultimately cooperation across the campus ensure alignment of energy efficiency goals. When all members of the team rally around a central energy and/or cost savings objective, the university also becomes more efficient in the processes that achieve those goals.

Implementing the Energy Efficiency Strategy across Campus

The first step university management took to convert campus structures to smart buildings was to install instrumentation that would  enable facilities to monitor and collect data in order to establish a baseline energy consumption across campus. The IT department coordinated with the facilities department to implement Schneider Electric's energy management solutions in campus buildings.  Next the company's subject matter experts analyzed the data being collected and at the same time audited our existing building management system controls and settings. By capturing more accurate data on energy usage, university management benefited from improved decision making and planning related to changes or expansions within the campus environment.

The collaboration that began after the initial data center upgrade continues today and will persist in the future as the facilities and IT departments work together to take facilities' physical  infrastructure and move it onto IT's digital grid.

Key Considerations When Selecting a Vendor

Don't settle for anything less than the total package:

  • Find an energy resource partner that can provide equipment, design expertise, and consultation on facility, equipment, and software selection.
  • Beyond the physical equipment itself and design consultation, search for a vendor that also assists with the actual implementation.
  • Pick a true partner — a company whose team is available and enthusiastic about providing future consultation for the growth of your facility.

Advice for Other Campus IT and Facilities Managers

From the beginning stages of a new data center or facilities project, one of the most important steps is to bring the IT and facilities departments together to discuss common goals. What exactly does your campus want to achieve — immense energy savings? Or is slashing cost more of a priority? Or is it a combination of both and other important factors?

Consider ways to replicate energy management equipment and processes across the entire campus. Having both departments looped into conversations is a key success factor in staying on task and identifying areas of possible improvement. At Bryant University:

  • Our president challenged the CFO and CIO to make energy management a shared goal.
  • The IT and facilities departments have much in common: energy is a necessity of operation; both want to enhance efficiency without compromising availability; both need to consider whole life-cycle costs (investment, maintenance, energy); and ROI is defined by costs avoided across the entire life-cycle of equipment.

Tips for Energy Efficiency Success

  1. Align IT with the college's finance and facilities management departments to promote collaboration and ensure that all parties involved are working toward a common goal.
  2. When proposing a data center update or consolidation to university officials, highlight the energy efficiency component, the potential cost and energy savings, and the long-term positive effects it will have on the entire campus.
  3. Find a vendor that offers the complete package: an energy resource partner that can help with not only the facility, equipment, and software selection but the implementation as well as future consultation.
  4. Select a solution that will accommodate the institution's IT infrastructure needs for at least the next five years, and always keep future needs and goals in mind when planning and implementing new equipment and processes.

Additional Tips:

  • Break down the information silos and recognize that the impediment between IT and Facilities is a social one. 
  • IT and Facilities need to move away from the not-found-here mentality to one of proudly-found-elsewhere. 
  • Remember, efficiency is to implementation (something you purchase) as conservation is to operation (how you operate what you've purchased).
  • Energy benchmarking and data analysis are essential to the sustainability of your success.

Summing Up

The consolidation of Bryant University's data center is an ongoing process that reflects the objectives for energy efficiency we're committed to achieving. The implementation of energy management solutions enables the university to develop, test, and carry out the appropriate strategies to ensure that the data center functions at the highest efficiency levels, resulting in significantly reduced energy consumption and operational expenses.

Collaboration across the various departments that contribute to and affect a college campus's energy efficiency was a direct factor in the successful energy and cost reductions the university has realized in recent years. We recommend that other universities follow a similar process, connecting their IT, finance, and facilities departments at the outset of a project that will affect energy use on campus. Selecting the right vendors and consultants is another major factor, because the equipment implemented today will directly affect future growth. We are not only managing energy but also enabling more effective campus planning for future initiatives.