Bayer: Keeping Data Cold and Green

An interview with Thomas Schilling on the company’s Green IT initiative.

By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor

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Like many large, diverse corporations, Bayer has large and diverse sustainability initiatives. A recent unequivocal success has been its Green IT program, which aims at reducing the energy consumption and environmental impact of its facilities, particularly its data centers in Leverkusen (Germany), Singapore, and Pittsburgh.

Part of the program involves the “virtualization” of servers—relying upon web-based cloud services (provided by Amazon, for example). A year earlier than planned, the company has improved energy efficiency in its data centers by 20%. In 2011, it virtualized some 800 systems and thus eliminated a large number of servers, says Thomas Schilling, who coordinates the company’s Green IT activities.

Another part of the program involves the cooling of servers and data equipment via “cold-aisle containment.” Schilling took time out of his green schedule to answer our questions:

PhM: First, a general question: What is “Green IT” and how does it apply particularly to pharmaceutical companies?

T.S.: The term “Green IT” is describing the special focus on energy efficient IT delivery. For sure in production business the role of IT as contributor to the overall footprint of energy consumption and related emissions of one company is mostly small, but nevertheless in our holistic sustainability approach all aspects of energy consumption are considered and should be minimized. In addition IT can also play a role as enabler for energy efficient business in the non IT sector. Here we focus mainly on the data collection and reporting infrastructure for our sustainability targets and also on our energy management system STRUCTese, an IT assisted analysis of production and nonproduction facilities to analyze their energy savings potentials.

PhM: We’ve heard the term “virtualize” more recently. How has Bayer virtualized its IT operations and what have the energy saving and other benefits been?

T.S.: The Bayer IT operations are based on a very broad virtualization strategy that not only addresses the server hosting itself, but also the virtualization of storage, network and applications. Nevertheless the core contributions to the energy savings come from the consolidation of a broad landscape of physical servers into a virtualization farm of larger x86 servers hosting several thousand guest systems with Windows and Linux operating systems. This aspect alone accounts for nearly 50% of our efficiency target or an overall efficiency increase of Data Center IT by almost 10% since 2009. On top of this also the hosting costs could be reduced due to savings in hardware, network ports, power, cooling, and rack space. In addition the virtualization layer allows for more stable operations due to inbuilt high availability features and an abstraction of the hardware layer.

PhM: You’ve also worked on optimizing the cooling of your servers and IT equipment via “cold-aisle containment.” Is this a fairly straightforward process with a quick return on investment (ROI)?

T.S.: The cold aisle housing is in fact a very cost efficient means of reducing the cooling energy required in our existing data center server rooms. It offers an ROI between 2 and 3 years in most of our cases. The cooling energy required for these rooms could be reduced by up to 60% via additional optimization of air flow rates. We already had a good starting point of cold / hot aisle separated rack placement with multiple compartments in a dark room concept where we also separated different functions like server, storage, tape libraries and network where possible. Therefore we could optimize the use of CRACs (computer room air conditioners) and thermal conditions for standard server and hot spot scenarios. And this measure could be used even if you do not have the option for a green field approach.

PhM: Bayer is using more videoconferencing to cut down on global air travel. This obviously makes sense from a sustainability point of view, but is there a way to quantify the cost and energy savings, CO2 reduction, etc.?

T.S.: This is in fact very difficult to assess. Therefore we have omitted to communicate concrete figures here as the baseline for travel and travel expenses has also other determining factors that overlay the overall spent. Nevertheless we track the utilization and coverage of our Telepresence and videoconferencing facilities and we introduce a full-service booking and support package to provide a convenient experience to our internal users.

PhM: Most of our readers spend most or all of their time in manufacturing facilities. What are some “Green IT” projects that can make a big difference in factories, warehouses, etc.?

T.S.: From our point of view to create awareness for this topic is a very good starting point. With awareness the employees can add the additional benefit of user behavior to the savings and avoidance scheme that technical implementation alone cannot reach. It is therefore also crucial to keep the user acceptance high for measures that have impact to them. Looking into our Green IT measures several aspects should be checked for business case and impact: In Data Center the assessment of IT hardware, the introduction of virtualization as key factor for savings and multiple other benefits and the optimization of cooling mainly by air flow design and control. In the client and user area of IT the shutdown of screens and / or PC itself via energy management can in addition lead to additional savings because of their lever of large amounts of systems.

PhM: Finally, how far along is Bayer in its Green IT mission? Are you just scratching the surface of what you can do and how much you can save?

T.S.: Green IT and sustainable use of resources will be an ongoing task for us. We already achieved a lot in the last years with our current Green IT program and the measures we have implemented in previous years. Therefore the focus has to move to a more sophisticated assessment of the overall IT landscape also focusing on cloud technologies and energy management systems. We still aim for similar efficiency targets in future as well.

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