South East Water embraces Green IT

The company virtualized its server environment, overhauled its managed print fleet and implemented a number of policies in order to reduce waste and greenhouse emissions

Under constant pressure from both the global financial crisis and climate change, Australian water utility South East Water (SEW) identified a need to clean up its carbon footprint.

The organisation services more than 1.5 million customers spread over 3500 square kilometres and was keen to embed sustainability in its decision making process with a focus on environmental impacts, community and cost.

SEW ICT operations manager, Stuart Brockwell, told attendees at Melbourne’s CIO Summit the organisation faced the ongoing issue of “doing more with less”.

“The challenge for us was to identify areas where we could make a difference, both financial and environmental without compromising the service,” Brockwell said.

The company has increased its staff headcount by 38 per cent over the last two years, which only served to exacerbate budget restraint problems, Brockwell said. The first area under the budgetary microscope was SEW’s burgeoning data centre.

“It’s surprising just how much money organisations spend on running their data centre each year, like most IT managers we had no visibility of our electricity bill and could not accurately track the consumption of power in our data centre,” he said.

The IT team went ahead and installed smart meters in the data centre, understanding the saying “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. It enabled Brockwell to track the power consumption in real time and indicated 30 per cent of the power for the company’s head office locations was directly attributable to the data centre.

“With more than 150 physical servers in our data centre, we had a ratio of just under one server for every four staff in the organisation. People had become so accustomed to having dedicated hardware for their applications they were reluctant to move to a shared infrastructure model.”

“A combination of room design and old racks meant the air conditioners were struggling to meet cooling requirements,” he said. “Our data centre was located on the first floor and we’d reached the upper limit of our capacity, to the point where our facilities manager refused to allow us to make any changes to the facility without first getting sign off from a structural engineer.”

Taking “tentative steps into the world of virtualization, SEW developed testing environments with the aim of building confidence within the organisation for a shared infrastructure model.

“As confidence progressed over time we continued to work with the business, starting with virtualizing just a few servers in early 2007, to December that year where we had reached a target of 85 per cent virtualization across our server fleet.”

Upon reaching that goal, Brockwell was able to remove 10 racks from the data centre, equating to almost two tonnes of tin removed from the facility within 12 months. Power consumption was also significantly reduced, enabling a number of air conditioner units to be shut down.

“By removing 100 servers from our three year refresh cycle we saved in excess of $600,000 in hardware costs alone and the overall reduction in carbon emissions as a result of virtualization was the equivalent of taking more than 100 cars off the road each year.”

In addition to virtualizing its server fleet, SEW’s managed print fleet was also experiencing symptoms of age, including a high rate of failure and costly ongoing maintenance. Paper wastage was also high.

The organisation had 600 staff with 120 printers, scanners and photocopiers across its office locations, resulting in a ratio of just one printer per 13 staff.

Following a “rigorous” vendor selection process, SEW signed a five-year managed print service deal with Canon for 16 multifunction devices for two offices and installed complimentary swipe card readers on each machine.

“Using business cards, staff can now walk up to any printer in any of the offices, swipe their pass on the printer and it will print out the staff member’s print job.”

“For those printing confidential documents there is no longer need to run to the printer, with swipe card reader your print job is sitting there safely and securely waiting to be printed.”

According to Brockwell, the new devices prove much faster than the old machines, even with the implementation of swipe card readers, as they reduced time spent printing large documents.

“One of the key areas we really wanted to focus on was paper waste and so we implemented a policy where any print jobs that had not been printed outside 48 hours were automatically purged from the system,” he said. “This allowed us to reduce uncollected printouts, reducing the average paper consumption by 4 per cent per year.”

“As a percentage, that equates to a 15 per cent saving in our printouts each year, and that was just what wasn’t printed.

“We also defaulted our printers to black and white, with 70 per cent of print jobs now printed in black and white, so we’re also seeing savings there, especially when you consider colour printing is 10 times more expensive.”

With staff numbers now in excess of 800, Brockwell said the tools have enabled SEW to manage the print fleet without having to increase the number of printers, along with the increase in staff.

Forty four printers were removed from the organisation as well as 15 photocopiers, replacing inefficient old hardware with the new machines.

The installation of a TV, video camera and computer in each meeting room has also driven down the need for staff to bring minutes, agenda items and presentations in printed form, Brockwell said, and has had an added benefit of staff using the TVs as video conferencing devices between offices, reducing the need for unnecessary travel.

“We achieved significant savings of $86,000, which included costs for repairs … and power consumption across our managed print fleet, while doing so we also managed to achieve a saving of 40 tonnes of greenhouse gas directly attributable to our printer fleet and the printing process.”

Another area subject to a Green clean-up was SEW’s 800-strong desktop fleet, of which one third is replaced every year.

The organisation traded its old fleet for an ultra slim desktop design which uses the power supply equal to that of a laptop and implemented a policy to turn the machines off overnight.

“We found that on average, 150 machines were being left on every night unnecessarily so we started publishing a list of those being left on to try and encourage people to be proactive in turning off their PCs,” he said. “We find that on average now less than 10 machines are left on everyday.”

Following the hire of a new CIO earlier this year, SEW has begun to work on its new IT strategy to take it through to 2018, Brockwell said.

This will seek to address the use of fax daily basis as well as the replacement of the company’s storage area network (SAN) and virtual server fleet which are both up for replacement.

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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