Publisher squeezing IT energy costs via smart data center design

Green IT principles are fundamental to helping EBSCO Publishing keep up with sales growth

EBSCOhost is a fee-based research service that provides libraries in North America with access to more than 20 million articles from 20,000-plus journals and magazines, all driven from two data centers in the coastal town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The data centers are owned and operated by EBSCO Publishing, the second-largest business unit of EBSCO Industries, which is one of the largest privately held firms in the Fortune 500. Michael Gorrell, senior vice president and CIO for EBSCO Publishing, explained that green IT principles are fundamental to helping the company keep up with sales growth averaging 26 percent per year for the last three years and storage growth of 200 percent annually, without equivalent growth in computing and data center infrastructure.

Can you give me a sense of what your data centers look like?

We have 400 servers combined and the data centers are about 8,000 square feet combined. We use APC power structure racking systems, which have integrated UPS as well as all the cabinetry, wiring infrastructure and so forth. Both data centers are supported by multiple generators in a series, so if one generator fails there's another to support it in backup mode. All EBSCO Publishing's revenue comes from our EBSCOhost service. It's used worldwide, available 24x7, with zero downtime and zero maintenance windows.

What is driving your green IT initiatives?

We're good business people and when you spend less on energy, you spend less altogether, so that's good. And when you spend less on floor space, you have to build fewer buildings. We own our buildings, so that makes good business sense. We're also very committed environmentally. We've done some things that are environmentally proactive, but not necessarily financially attractive. We installed solar panels on our roofs, and because of the area of the country that we're in, they don't have kind of payback that we'd normally like to see in a business opportunity, but we felt it was the right thing to do. We just got an award in May from the [Environmental Protection Agency], a commendation for our efforts in the environmental arena. Our market is librarians and libraries and academic institutions, so doing things for the greater good is something that we're very much in tune with.

To what extent was your rather impressive growth driving some of these initiatives?

When you start adding servers based on the growth that we're seeing, especially when you add more and more disk storage which is disproportionately big, [you can quickly] run out of floor space. And not only floor space but certain power panels can't feed any more electricity and HVAC units can't blow any more BTUs worth of cooling. As we continue to grow, we could see that if we didn't do something different, we'd be faced with building another data center sooner than we wanted to. If you cut back on the amount of space you're using by going with smaller blade servers, and do virtualization so you can remove servers altogether, you get better cooling ratios in your data center per square foot and you save money on power. It's all kind of win, win, win.

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