Orbitz greens it IT operations

Orbitz, a Chicago travel Web site, has embraced environmentalism as a corporate strategy. Now Orbitz CIO Bahman Koohestani faces the challenge of trying to make the company’s electricity-hungry IT operations green.

Koohestani is attacking this challenge in several ways. He’s taking his IT operations carbon neutral; he’s embracing server consolidation; and, he’s using an aggressive technology refresh cycle to buy more energy-efficient computer equipment.

Orbitz has two large data centres in the Chicago area: one in Elk Grove, Ill., and one in Westmont, Ill. Both are powered by Exelon, the Chicago area electric utility, which generates about 80 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power plants.

That’s one advantage for Orbitz as it attempts to make its IT operations carbon neutral, a buzzword that means foregoing coal- or natural-gas based fuels that emit greenhouse gases. An organization also can claim to be carbon neutral if it buys offsets of “green” power, such as solar or wind, for the same amount of coal-based power that it uses.

“We’re fortunate to be in Chicago, which has only two coal-fired power plants,” company spokesman Brian Hoyt says. “That’s one of the reasons we’re building new data center properties in the city…We’re glad that Chicago has a focus from the city government to state and federal officials to keep it as green as possible. One of the ways they do that is by being 80 per cent nuclear power sourced.”

Koohestani recommends that other CIOs consider housing their data centers in locations like Chicago that have power sources other than coal-burning electricity plants.

“I would encourage other CIOs to take a look at their power grids, and if they are moving or expanding their data centres, to go to power grids that are much more energy efficient,” he says.

Orbitz is measuring and monitoring electricity usage at its data centres on a daily basis.

“We do have an excellent handle on how much energy we use,” Koohestani says. “We know how much we are using for cooling. We know how much we use for the network center and for data centre operations. And we know where we need to reduce our amount of usage in order to be more effective…We are looking at the data for the data center daily.”

Koohestani says Orbitz doesn’t set goals for reducing electricity usage because its business is growing so rapidly.

“Our direction is to optimize our energy use and figure out a way to reduce the total number of servers, and that clearly helps us with heating and cooling costs,” he explained.

Orbitz is slashing the number of servers in its search-related server farm by half, from 500 to 250. That will allow the company to adopt more energy-efficient computers and to reduce its power consumption.

“One of the things we constantly look at is how do we optimize and cycle out the older servers that we have and the older technologies that we have and refresh them with newer technology that is more friendly to the environment,” Koohestani says. “That enables us to reduce the total number of servers that we have in a particular farm for a particular function.”

By cutting the servers in the search function, Orbitz will reduce its power consumption by 40 per cent, says Doug Jaworski, director of infrastructure services for Orbitz.

“We’re removing the systems that perform at a much slower capacity and are depreciated,” Jaworski says. “We will cut electrical costs by 40%, but that also saves us on server footprint. I, therefore, have less equipment to maintain and manage and less software to operate.”

To keep its cooling costs down, Orbitz has designed custom server racks that each support 100 systems and have built-in cooling features. “Through funneling the hot air out and not re-circulating it within our facility, we’re able to lower our cooling costs,” Jaworski says.

Meanwhile, Orbitz is refreshing all of its desktop computers, laptops and monitors to adopt Energy Star systems that have sleep and standby modes. Jaworski isn’t sure how much energy that move will save.

“Energy Star systems are not costing us any more,” Jaworski says. “It just makes sense to buy them.”

Orbitz refreshes its computer systems every three years or so to keep the technology current and to adopt the latest innovations in energy efficiency.

“We find that if we measure everything from an energy consumption level, we’re able to justify refreshes,” Jaworski says. “We can show [management] that this helps the bottom line because we can write something off earlier, spend more capital, and in the end save more money.” Orbitz also is consolidating the number of data centers it operates. For example, the company is consolidating data centres in 13 European countries into one data centre in the Chicago area.