server farms," he said, "so we can be proper stewards of our resources."

One example of industry-led innovation is found at the intersection of modularization and sustainability. In late 2007, a computer manufacturer unveiled a full data center in a box - and delivered it on a truck. The big digital prefab is "a pre-configured, fully contained data center in a shipping container." The manufacturer says the data center module "is optimized for maximum density, performance and energy efficiency." What's more, it is built with recyclable parts and components.

The modular approach - particularly if it's available as a leased product, or better yet under a software-as-a-service offering - fits with the dual but conflicting demands for greater capacity amid oversubscribed budgets. A new modular infrastructure, with or without a new business model, comes with added sustainability benefits too.

Conventional public-sector data centers tend to be on elongated amortization schedules, and new or replacement facilities have very long gestation periods. "It's a capital construction project, and it can take many years to get it approved," said Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

Timing may not be everything in a political environment, but it is important. Washington state's timing could not have been better. With careful planning and sophisticated stewardship through the state planning and budgeting processes, the Washington State Department of Information Services (DIS) is expected to break ground on an all-new and very green data center this spring.

The new 166,000-square-foot data center is the defining feature of a 456,000-square-foot, $260 million office complex that will be built on one of the last available spaces on Olympia's Capitol campus. The DIS complex - to be completed in 2010 - will provide new offices for the host agency as well as the Washington State Patrol, Department of General Administration and other smaller agencies. Those departments need a new building because their existing home - a nondescript, 1950s-era cinder brick building with spectacular views of Capitol Lake and downtown Olympia - is slated for demolition to make way for a politically prized Heritage Center, described as "the most important construction project in Olympia since the Capitol was finished in 1928." The operational need to replace the existing 32-year-old DIS data center certainly factored into the decision, but it benefited from being seen in the context of the larger Capitol campus transformation.

Sustainability and efficiency were integrated into the bid for the new DIS complex, as they have been since 2005 under an executive order. The order requires, in part, that major construction projects "be built and certified to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standard."

DIS Director Gary Robinson said the return-on-investment considerations related to silver certification were addressed at the predesign stage. The project has moved successfully to the design stage, with the Seattle-based firm Wright Runstad & Company under contract to develop and build the complex.

In some pubic installations, LEED silver compliance produced operational savings of up to 35 percent. Gartner suggests that such savings do not come for free, estimating that "going green may add 10 percent to 15 percent [to] capital equipment and operational costs."

Nevertheless Gartner estimates that by 2011 a quarter of new data centers will be strikingly different than those operating today, with "mechanical, electrical, thermal and hosted computer systems designed for maximum energy efficiency."

The new Washington state facility may be prototypical of the new green breed of data centers. It is scheduled to come online in 2010. The transformation will be televised - DIS plans to maintain a live Web stream from the construction site.

Paul W. Taylor Paul W. Taylor  |  Chief Content Officer, e.Republic Inc.

Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.