Qualcomm Saves Millions With Green IT

We often cover semiconductors that require less energy, but we rarely talk to the companies behind those chips to find out what else they might be doing to reduce their power consumption. However, Norm Fjeldheim, chief information officer for Qualcomm, recently shared a few tidbits about what the cell phone chip maker is doing to keep corporate consumption down — and it all starts with information technology (not everyone is jumping ship to build “cleantech” firms).

While it was some 20 years that the Qualcomm IT department instigated a recycling effort that’s still in effect on the Qualcomm campus today, it is within the last five years that Qualcomm has made its biggest strides. In 2004 it began construction on a new corporate building and attached a data center to the corporate offices.

The building contains a cogeneration plant that takes the waste heat delivered by the all the servers in the data center and uses it to partially power the office building. That idea won Qualcomm a $600,000 award from the state of California, and has returned the cost of construction in the form of power savings in just four years. Qualcomm didn’t disclose the price tag for the construction, but said the cogeneration plant reduced the energy costs of the building by 39 percent and saved the chip maker $2.9 million last year.

The physical facilities were carefully considered to minimize the cost of electricity; mesh floors, for example, were replaced in some areas with solid ones so that cool air didn’t escape. Then Fjeldheim tackled the servers. Five years ago the company had 450 Windows servers; today, thanks to virtualization, it uses just 400. That’s no small feat considering that in that time, Qualcomm’s computing demands have continued to grow while its total number of servers have shrunk.

The company has also focused on virtualizing its storage. It’s managed to increase the amount of data stored in each box to 70 percent from 40 percent, which means that, in terms of power costs, storing a terabyte of data costs a third less than it used to. However, the drive to consolidate hardware using virtualization is still on. Fjeldheim says the company has eliminated some of its older servers but still needs to consolidate two-thirds of its Unix servers.

To assist with its consolidation, Qualcomm has built internal software to help automate the server virtualization process. The software evaluates the computers to see which ones are fully optimized and which ones might be able to take on more of a load. It’s also trying to reduce the burden its internal software places on the chips running applications by cleaning up the code.

The company was supposed to build a new data center this year, but virtualization has meant higher server and storage utilization so now it can afford to hold off until 2010. (The virtualization efforts also cut power costs in the data center by 50 percent.) So far the virtualization efforts have saved Qualcomm $20 million, with $5 million of that coming from power cost-reductions. The total savings in electricity, hardware and construction costs has Qualcomm seeing green.

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