Insurance operations are a significant source of energy and resource consumption, so it's great to see some leading companies stepping up to the plate to address these issues. I covered the green data center efforts of three major insurers—Aflac, Allstate and Nationwide—in the latest edition of INN, and found a lot of new thinking behind data center design and operations management.
Allstate Insurance Co., for one, just opened a green data center in Rochelle, Ill., incorporating a range of best practices and state-of-the-art technology aimed at saving energy and employing renewable resources. I had the chance to speak with Anthony Abbattista, VP of technology solutions for Allstate, who has been putting a lot of thought into the design and function of the center over the past few years, and said that the new data center ended up being only half the original size planned. Allstate also was planning to close its two older data centers by June of this year.
As Abbattista explained, Allstate first started planning with greater systems efficiency in mind, but soon recognized that the greener they could make things, the better.
“We started off saying, we want to be efficient, and build a good building, and all that good stuff,” Abbattista said. “But the thing that quickly became clear is the size of mechanical and electrical plant really is sort of a driving cost and factor. That got us interested in how do you build a better building, how do you build a smaller building, how do you do something about energy and kilowatts, which is the largest operating cost in the data center? That's how we got started on this path—we started thinking, let's build a LEED-certified building.”
LEED, or Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, is the recognized certification in green building development.
From a systems perspective, Abbattista pursued a policy of what he calls “aggressive virtualization,” which dramatically cut the amount of servers and storage that needed to be maintained to support present and future Allstate operations.
In terms of energy efficiency, the new data center employs some smart techniques, such as sucking in cool air on cool days for server cooling, and channeling heat from the servers to warm working spaces in winter. Abbattista said it's too soon to tell how much energy is being saved, since the center opened less than a year ago. However, so far, so good—each watt of computing power is consuming about 1.3 watts of cooling capacity versus the standard two watts traditionally consumed.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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