GM2 Logistics marries SANs and sustainability

2008 Green 15: Energy-efficient storage consolidation project yields savings, high availability for London paper company

Being both green and a paper merchant is a difficult balance to strike. Indeed, it would be easy to write off a company that distributes 600 metric tons of paper products every day as decidedly unfriendly to the environment by the very nature of its business. That, however, is not the case with GM2 Logistics.

Discover the techniques used by other 2008 Green 15 winners to make their IT more sustainable.

"We're particularly keen on becoming greener," says John Boyd, IT manager at GM2. "We always look for a green aspect."

This warehousing and logistics company near London, in fact, was faced with the multifaceted problem of an aging datacenter comprising older hardware: It consumed high amounts of energy, required significant heating and cooling, and demanded plenty of manpower to maintain. GM2 sought to address all these costly and wasteful shortcomings -- but not at the expense of efficiency and practicality. Instead, Boyd explains, the primary concern was achieving high availability.

To update its datacenter, the company first considered the more traditional throw-hardware-at-the-problem approach, which in the short run "would have been cheaper because you can buy servers piecemeal," Boyd points out.

But to instead plot five years into the future and beyond so as to commit upfront expenses actually made more business and economic sense for GM2. Turning to server and storage virtualization, the 670-employee company built two SANs -- based on Compellent and VMware -- that reside 135 miles apart. The setup enables business continuity and disaster recovery for its trucking operations logistics. In the process, GM2 migrated to Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, and Citrix-based applications without expanding IT staff.

Before going to two SANs, the company's 1TB of storage had been spread across 36 servers -- which have since been consolidated onto six blades. "We now have this all consolidated onto the SAN with all the data being replicated off site," Boyd explains. "On all counts, this was better for our business, in terms of efficiency and manageability, too."

The company did not limit its green IT practices to the datacenter. The company retired around between 200 and 250 PCs, trading them in for low-power thin clients running on Citrix. This means fewer costs, Boyd notes, as well as improved security.

And those remaining desktops and 30 servers left over after the consolidation? Recycled sensitively and according to England's regulations.

Whereas Boyd acknowledged that the green initiatives have led to cost savings, as is the case with many such projects, they're not all quantifiable -- and the benefits are greater than just money saved.

In GM2's case, the company freed IT folks from manual tasks, such as constantly shuffling data from one machine to another based on system capacity, or restoring lost files by trolling through tape drawers. "There are lots of soft issues, one of which is the ability to create a virtual server and react quickly rather than waiting a few days for the server to show up."

Tangible costs are also reduced, naturally. "In the datacenter we use less power, less heat, less equipment, period," Boyd explains.

While the Green 15 award focuses on IT projects, GM2 puts an emphasis on environmentally friendly practices both inside and outside its IT shop. Beyond the firewall, for instance, GM2 replaced one of its fleet vehicles with a battery-powered truck and is currently monitoring that to see how well it works.

"We're not just green IT. We try to be a green company."

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