Summary:

If you’re like a lot of computer users, you’ve got applications on your computer that you rarely, if ever, use. Sprint Nextel Corp., until recently, was like you, but on a much larger scale. The company found as many as 127 underused and nonessential applications, for […]

If you’re like a lot of computer users, you’ve got applications on your computer that you rarely, if ever, use. Sprint Nextel Corp., until recently, was like you, but on a much larger scale. The company found as many as 127 underused and nonessential applications, for both internal IT processes and customer services, that it could retire last year — part of an IT overhaul documented in a yearlong internal audit at Sprint as well as a new case study, the results of which were just published, from Forrester Research.

According to the study (which you can download as a PDF here) and an announcement from Sprint today, the company was able to close six data centers and cut some $20 million from its IT operating costs. The first step? Eliminating those extra apps — and much of the server, storage and network infrastructure they each demanded.

While Google long kept secret its scheme for improving data center efficiency — one of its geekiest and often obsessed-about innovations — Sprint is showing some of its hand, displaying some notable accomplishments (timed for Earth Day impact, no doubt) but also acknowledging that it has a ways to go.

“While it’s a good problem to have, we’re struggling to efficiently cool our data center,” said Sprint’s Brian Laverack, who was quoted in the Forrester study. Consolidation has left the company with extra space in its remaining data centers, and it’s now considering installing blanking panels, baffles and temporary walls “to focus cooling where it’s actually needed.” Free cooling (aka outside air cooling) and rack enclosures are being considered for the longer term.

That’s not all that remains to be done at Sprint on the road to a greener data center. The company also noted in the Forrester study that it has at least five computer labs and more than 100 rooms, or mini data centers, that run the old, energy guzzling way — in other words, without standardization and efficient cooling. Sprint says it plans to eliminate unnecessary inefficiencies, Sprint expects to move the computing load in these mini labs into the data center within the next year.

By then, the company may have a new tool — and perhaps more motivation to outpace competitors — for boosting data center efficiency, courtesy of the EPA. The agency has tentatively set early 2010 for the launch of a new 1-100 rating system for data center operators to compare the energy use of their facilities to that of their peers. Game on.

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