USDA, State easing IT power intake

Wednesday - 10/6/2010, 7:48am EDT

Jason Miller, Executive Editor, Federal News Radio

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Agriculture Department has increased the efficiency of many of its mechanical and electrical systems that run its data center to more than 90 percent.

The State Department is seeing huge savings from using power management software.

These agencies are just two which are on the forefront of reducing the impact of their agency's technology infrastructure on the environment.

In fact, USDA is getting ready to update its green IT strategy, said Chris Smith, the agency's chief information officer.

"We've been able to focus on some key areas," Smith said Tuesday after his panel at the GreenGov Symposium sponsored by the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and The George Washington University in Washington. "I think the initial plan that we put out there was very aggressive. We are taking that refining that this year. We were able to focus on some key areas, power management on distributed computing devices so end user computers, desktops and laptops and I think you will see us make some great inroads on that front."

Smith said improving USDA's data centers has been a priority.

"We've carried out a number of certifications," he said. "We continue to refine our floor there and make sure that we are utilizing the latest technologies to free up floor space, modernizing it for hot and cold aisles, overhead cabling and power. Those all bring efficiencies with them as well as virtualization, which has been very successful."

State CIO Susan Swart said power management is a key part of her agency's green IT efforts.

She said State expects to save $1.8 million for using software to manage how much electricity computers use throughout the day.

"Information technology equipment is responsible for approximately half of the department's energy use," according to State's sustainability plan issued Aug. 30. "For domestic locations, there is a goal for 100 percent compliance for enabling basic power management features on workstations."

In the first phase of the power management initiative, Swart's office is using existing power management capabilities, such as sleep and hibernate modes, from existing methods and tools. The strategy states that the department also is reducing IT energy demand by removing personalized IT services, such as personal printers and scanners.

"The second phase of the power management initiative is to explore the feasibility of implementing a single enterprisewide solution that accounts for security requirements to perform centralized patching and security compliance scanning," the strategy states.

At USDA, Smith said he is using a cybersecurity tool from BigFix to help address power management needs.

"We can set clear configuration for power on, power off that also takes into account security settings because that's one of the critical things because you don't want conflicts between the two," he said. "We want that to go into a mode using least amount of electricity. We want it to shut off at the right time and you want it to easily pop up within seconds. We have to align the security settings, password settings, our virus and patch scanning as well as the 20 minute timeout, what happens after 30 minutes and what happens after an hour and then what time in the night will it pop up to get updates from security standpoint and then power back down and be ready to power back up in the morning."

Smith said another area that shows a lot of promise from both a security and power savings perspective is thin clients. USDA has about 2,000 of these "dumb" machines in use now and Smith would like to see that increase over the next few years.

"We've see office productivity workers pick up a thin client and they get what they need from your set of office tools and e-mail, but when you start introducing a number of disparate business applications and multiple different operating systems, there is a real cost to taking a large portfolio like that, refining it and making it work over a thin client," he said. "There is a little bit of being used to having a highly robust machine on the desktop which you can do everything locally. We have some things to do to get customers familiar with the technology because I think once they've used it, they will adopt it at a higher rate."

Swart and Smith say both agencies are encouraging printing on both sides of the paper and are virtualizing servers.

To really help get the culture change needed, however, Swart said her office is considering whether to have the Green Committee, which is made up of assistant secretaries and other high level officials, send out the policies to reduce energy usage for IT.