As part of my exploration of the industry's leading green data centers (published in the May issue of INN), I had the chance to talk with Pat Ryal, Aflac’s VP of technology services about her company's green initiatives.
In 2009, Aflac opened a brand-new 161,000-square-foot IT center in Columbus, Ga., with a strong focus on energy efficiency and green technology-even going so far as to give preferential parking for carpoolers and preserving more than 2,000 feet of green space.
But the new data center is only part of the story. For those who see converting to a green facility as daunting or expensive, Ryal has five words: it's okay to start small. Taking small steps is the best way to manage storage in more efficient ways. "Overall, it seems daunting when you first undertake it, and you think you have to do all these great and grand things, and invest a lot of money. We have found that's not the case. You can look for some more simple things, some quick wins, such as airflow channeling."
Aflac also achieved some quick wins on simple paper reduction techniques – such as configuring printers for two-sided printing. “We did invest in software that enables us to store and archive and allow Web access,” she adds. “Overall, we've seen some very dramatic decreases in the amount of paper reports that we produce.
Social networking – often available at low or no cost – also helps green up operations, Ryal points out. “We implemented social networking technology, with virtual meetings,” she says. “We have eight miles between our campuses. With the virtual meeting, we're able to share documents and teleconference. We've grown to from 640 virtual meetings a month when we first implemented it, to almost 2,000 a month now. These participants used to get into their cars to travel to different locations for meetings. With just five people traveling back and forth between meetings on the campuses, that's a collective 100 miles.”
Not only is Aflac supporting greener operations, but the virtual conferences and social networking have also had a notable increase on staff productivity, Ryal adds.
As Ryal shows, moving to green doesn't require up-front investments in new buildings, heating and cooling equipment, or smoother-running servers. It can be accomplished today, with little fuss and muss. All management has to do is step up to the plate.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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