Virtualization savings in the House

The U.S. House of Representatives substantially cuts its electric bill by virtualizing and consolidating its data centers

The U.S. House of Representatives has cut its electricity bill by about US$2,000 a day, thanks to efforts in virtualization and server consolidation.

The project came about as part of a House initiative to cut the amount of power used by this branch of Congress by 50 percent, said Jack Nichols, the director for enterprise operations at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. He talked about the two-year effort of consolidating the House's data centers at the Uptime Institute Symposium 2010, being held this week in New York.

The House consolidation effort was one of a number of winners of the Uptime Institute's Green Enterprise IT award (GEIT), which recognizes organizations that have used technology to significantly reduce power consumption.

For its own operations, the IT team analyzed the actual server load in its primary data center and found that, on the whole, each server had only about a 5 percent CPU utilization rate.

The IT team, over a period of two years, consolidated the servers using virtualization to make virtual servers out of some of the physical servers. They had folded the operations of 85 Windows servers into eight physical servers and they reduced 35 Unix servers down to 12 physical servers.

As a result of this consolidation, the House cut the power consumption of operations of its IT equipment from an average of 500 kilowatt-hours (kW) down to 125 kW, which resulted in an approximate savings of $1,000 per day, Nichols reported.

Also, since the data center did not host as many servers, the cooling units could be cranked down a notch as well. The Computer Room Air Conditioner (CRAC) units that used to suck up 750 kW now only consume about 350 kW, resulting in another savings of about $1,000 per day for the Congressional branch.

Nichols said that the move from using all physical servers to using some virtual servers required some training on the part of the five-person IT staff. Roles also needed to be redefined. "Virtualization, in many aspects, takes the traditional roles of systems administrators, network engineers and security engineers and collapses them. The system administrator takes on all of these roles," Nichols said.

Security was another challenge that required attention. Because questions still linger about the ability of programs to communicate securely across a hypervisor, the applications were arranged so that any communication between them would go through the physical network.

Overall, however, the move did not require any additional capital spending beyond the operational budget already in place, because the transition expenses were spread out over two fiscal years, Nichols said.

With this new infrastructure in place, the IT team is now looking to move into the data center the individual servers that each House member runs.

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