How Verizon does green computing

21 May 2007

It takes a lot of power to run a wireless network that serves 60 million customers and handles billions of calls each month. So John Hinshaw, chief information officer for Verizon Wireless, should know all about energy costs. For the past 18 months, Hinshaw has been looking for energy-efficient technology that can help the company lower its power consumption, from the desktops that support its 65,000 employees to the hardware that fills its data and call centers.

His work is starting to pay off: By cutting the number of data centers from 10 to 3, Hinshaw has helped the company save $20 million. In a recent conversation with writer Rachael King, Hinshaw outlines just how the joint venture of Verizon Communications (VZ) and Vodafone (VOD) is saving money.

When you've looked at Verizon's different technology components, is there one place right off the bat that you've noticed is extraordinarily power-hungry‾

The data center environment is the most power-hungry by far, and what we've done over the past several years is reduce the number of applications that we run at Verizon Wireless in order to simplify the customer experience"”one billing system, one sales system, one customer care system. That requires a lot less hardware to run than if you had multiple systems.

It's allowed us to reduce what we had"”10 data centers consuming a ton of power just a few years ago. Now we have three data centers, and that's through rationalizing all these applications. That's probably the biggest area. I think we've avoided roughly $20 million in build-out costs by being more efficient in our data centers.

How difficult is it to get more power to your data centers‾

If you call the power company up and say, 'I need another couple gigawatts in my data center,' they're not just going to string it up and go. They're going to require that you invest quite a bit in the facilities and the digging up of roads and things to make that happen. It all depends on where the power is coming from, but if they don't have it right there at your facility, and often they don't, then yes, you have to make that happen.

Are you using server virtualization [the ability to run multiple software programs on one computer]‾

We are but we're being cautious with diving too deep into that because the technology itself is not perfected. If you lose one box today, you might lose one application. I don't want to lose all of my applications.

In some of your call centers, you use so-called 'thin client computers' that don't have any local processing or storage but are instead connected to other computers where all the work is done. I understand that has reduced energy consumption by about 30%"” is that correct‾

It has, and it's a pretty neat technology because it's just the screen, keyboard, and mouse. There's no desktop to suck down any power. It's roughly the equivalent [power consumption] of a lightbulb, which is far less power than what the traditional computers run.

Over time, PCs have gotten more power-efficient, but this really takes it to the next step because you eliminate that fan and all the CPU components.

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