Data centers devour more electricity than almost any other state government facility, but few states have implemented green data-center initiatives. Oregon, however, recently became one of the first to do so.

On Dec. 13, 2007, Oregon announced it consolidated 11 power-hungry data centers into the Oregon State Data Center (SDC), an energy-efficient facility located in Salem.

Before switching to new equipment, project leaders moved the state's existing data center equipment into the new, central facility, cutting power bills by 35 percent, according to Mark Reyer, state data center administrator for Oregon.

Paramount among the new technologies used for this data center is a storage area network (SAN) installed to centralize data storage, rather than using hard disk drives on individual servers, which are major power drains.

"If you have four or five 300-gigabyte hard drives on a server, and you're using 50 percent of their capacity -- and then you multiply that by 1,500 servers sitting in the data centers -- you have a tremendous amount of capacity that is being underutilized, but can't be allocated somewhere else," Reyer said.

The SAN pools all of the data, eliminating the problem of unused, excess capacity.
"This gives us incredible flexibility to have on-demand computing, so that we don't have oversized assets and underutilized assets such as servers waiting for peak periods," Reyer said. "We can have the amount of capacity we need and be able to allocate it on an as-needed basis for the agencies and their business cycles. It's a tremendous saving of assets, as well as optimal use of power itself."

Oregon's SAN puts data in a tier system, placing frequently accessed data in the top tier. As end-users access a piece of data less often, it drops to lower tiers until it hits the bottom and moves into an automatic tape library.

The automatic tape library provides additional power savings. In the past, each grouping of four servers had its own tape backup system. Now, one library serves all data, using robotics to move data in and out of the library, saving IT workers the hassle of manually moving data to and from the tape library. Eventually that data travels to a state-mandated, offsite data-archive facility.

The data center also reduces power consumption by using Oregon's temperate climate to cool the facility. The system sucks in cool air from outdoors, routing it through the floors supporting the servers. Warm air, in turn, is pushed out of the building. As a result, the facility uses its water chiller only 25 percent of the year, while most other data centers run their chillers year-round, Reyer said. "Oregon is a good place for data centers, given this climate," he added.

It took several years to persuade agencies to relinquish IT control to a centralized "shared services" model, Reyer mentioned, adding that agencies worried a centralized model would ignore agency-specific needs. However, leaders realized many of their IT functions were the same across the state.

"If it has to be customized for an agency, then it's not a shared service. However, almost everything we do is at the utility end of the IT spectrum," Reyer said. "If it's on the infrastructure end of the IT spectrum, it can be shared. Storage, computers, networks, security -- those don't differentiate whether you're providing transportation services or state police services to citizens."

Andy Opsahl  |  Staff Writer