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AASHE Interview Series: David Steinour, Interim...

June 25, 2009 4:24 PM
Full Title: AASHE Interview Series: David Steinour, Interim Chief Information Officer, The George Washington University

The topic of sustainability and of "greening" IT departments continues to become a more popular area of focus especially on college and university campuses. A recent AASHE Bulletin article highlighted the work The George Washington University (GWU) is doing to green it's IT infrastructure. I caught up with David Steinour, Interim Chief Information Officer at GWU to learn more about the work his office is doing. In David's current position he oversees the day-to-day IT operations for GWU with more than 25,000 users, three major campuses, over 120 buildings and two major data centers. Continue reading to learn more about the innovative work the IT department  at GWU is taking to reduce energy consumption and become more sustainable.

The George Washington University’s IT Department was recently in the news for several sustainability initiatives. Could you describe some of these for our readers?

The Information Systems and Services (ISS) department at The George Washington University maintains its position on the leading edge of higher education technology byimplementing sustainability initiatives that decrease energy use, save resources and improve customer service. Some of our initiatives include:

  • Virtualization which is a technology that leverages hardware and software to allow multiple computer systems to run on a single server. The retirement of unused and outdated server equipment reduces energy use and improves customer service. Currently, ISS has virtualized approximately 38 percent of its total server environment, saving more than 700,000 kilowatt-hours, which translates to taking 60 cars off the road. With a goal of 80-percent virtualized to 20-percent non-virtualized servers, ISS plans to significantly reduce its energy use by the equivalent of more than 120 cars off the road.
  •  ISS has also implemented Lifecycle Refresh and GWdocuments, both designed to lower energy costs and improve efficiency across the University. Lifecycle Refresh replaces older servers and data center systems with new energy-efficient servers. One new server can replace three to four old servers with no loss in performance, decreasing energy use by nearly 60 percent. GWdocuments reduces the need for physical space required by file cabinets and the use of printing to include paper and toner by consolidating electronic administrative documents into a central storage area, decreasing energy use while increasing the accessibility of all documents.
  • Through various student, faculty and staff publications, as well as stated in GW’s computing policy, ISS also encourages the GW community to turn off and/or power down computing equipment when it is not in use. In addition, the department ensures that all equipment given to staff and faculty are already configured to minimize energy consumption.

What role do you believe information technology plays in campuses sustainability efforts?

GW students, staff and faculty share a rich history of promoting environmental consciousness, cleaner living and the best practices of sustainability. GW recognizes that information and communications products and technologies are a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. ISS supports GW’s commitment to sustainability through the implementation of green initiatives, which are designed to decrease GW’s energy use, save valuable resources and improve customer services.

In what area(s) do you see the biggest room for growth in the campus information technology sustainability field?

Virtualization will provide the largest energy-efficiency impact. Virtualization allows less equipment to do more and eliminates the energy lost in the creation and maintenance of the University’s IT electrical and mechanical infrastructures. By implementing this technology, we can drastically reduce our energy footprint, while simultaneously lowering the cost of doing business.

How are you tracking your progress toward sustainability?

GW is just beginning the “tracking and measurement” journey. We initially started our IT energy efficiency initiatives to reduce costs and increase the speed in provisioning efforts. We are currently in the process of setting our electrical infrastructure to measure and monitor power usage from our data centers and from the server equipment itself. In the future, we plan to track the equipment we will purchase for a new data center—the ratio of Energy Star/EPEAT equipment vs. non-Energy Star/EPEAT equipment.

Is there a particular insight (learning experience or “ah-ha” moment) you have had working on campus IT programs?

Our “ah-ha” moment came after we first implemented virtualization. We initially adopted this technology to cut costs and increase our reaction times. However, we found that virtualization also significantly reduced our energy consumption and related costs. Out of our energy efficiency initiatives, the savings from virtualization was more than five times that of the next best initiative. As we continue to expand our sustainability tracking, I’m sure our “ah-ha” moments will continue.

Are steps being taken in procurement and purchasing decisions that affect sustainability and information technology at GWU?

As part of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, GW has committed to adopting an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy. The University is purchasing Energy Star-rated products whenever possible. With the onset of recent market advancements for computer equipment with an Energy Star rating, GW is committed to buying such. This applies to both GW’s data centers and computing labs. Additionally, GW is recommending students purchase personal computers that have an Energy Star rating.

We are currently in the process of opening a new data center on our Foggy Bottom campus. In the coming months we will be migrating to the new building and plan to be fully operational by the beginning of 2010. Due to the nature of what a data center is, they consume a large portion of the campus’ energy.

During the data center project, we identified several opportunities to make improvements, save energy and money, and extend the life of the data center. These areas include designing and building the data center with environmentally friendly systems and purchasing products that operate more efficiently and use less power, which will reduce energy costs by up to 40 percent. Additionally, we will be implementing more virtualized systems, which will reduce the number of physical servers by leveraging hardware and software to allow multiple systems to run on a single server.

When the new data center is fully operational, we plan to have 80-percent of systems virtualized. These energy saving purchases will save the University more than 1.4M kilowatt-hours, which translates to taking more than 120 cars off the road and over $1.7M over the next 5 years.

Has there been any work (such as a life cycle assessment) to assess the environmental impacts of the IT services at GWU?

We have not completely assessed the environmental impacts of the IT services at GW because we are just beginning to track the impact of our initiatives. We currently consider how we decommission equipment and utilize Lifecycle Refresh, a lifecycle replacement program for our hardware. However, we have not tracked what happens to the equipment after we turn it over to an e-cycling vendor. Additionally, the University sponsors a program for students, faculty and staff members to dispose of e-cycling materials (batteries, ink cartridges, computer monitors and computer parts, and cell phones) during move-out days at the end of the semester.

In what ways are students involved in your work?

The University has a created an Office of Sustainability that partners with students, faculty and staff to implement operational and academic sustainability initiatives, including leadership programs, building standards, energy efficiency, recycling, transportation and academic programs. Specifically within ISS, we inform the GW community about our green IT efforts and provide information about how they can make a difference. The 2009-2010 technology-related magazines that are distributed to students, faculty and staff will feature a spread about ‘Green Living and Computing,’ where we will debunk myths and provide energy consumption guidance as it is related to their technology equipment.

What advice would you give to others in your position who are just getting started?

Review all of the programs and perform some high-level comparisons regarding costs and benefits so that the appropriate resources can be applied to the larger efforts. Also, faculty, student and staff involvement is key. Some projects may not require significant IT resources to perform an IT-related initiative, for example, video conference rooms. Video conferencing is an important element of the sustainability initiative because they reduce the amount of travel needed to conduct face-to-face meetings and classes. Don’t let the initial investment to bring a room online deter you from implementing this tool because these rooms will continually reduce GHG emissions and the ongoing support is more administrative than IT-related.

What are you most looking forward to in 2009?

In 2009, the GW Office of Sustainability will be coordinating a series of discussions on our Climate Action Plan. We in ISS and others across campus will be working together to determine how and when GW can become carbon neutral. This will provide GW with a broader perspective on the impact from ISS and how it compares to the impact of other parts of campus life, such as buildings and commuting. We are looking forward to creating solutions that work for everyone in the GW community.