The Green Enterprise: Sun Microsystems
Correspondent Sumi Das sees the eco-technologies being invented at Sun Microsystems, such as energy-efficient data centers, and the company's OpenWork program, which allows employees to work from anywhere at anytime. She also talks to Vice President of Eco-responsibility Dave Douglas about the company's green strategies and how they are realizing cost savings from eco-practices.
RE: The Green Enterprise: Sun Microsystems
Sumi Das: Sun Microsystems is a company that develops network computing infrastructure solutions for customers around the world. They are typically solutions that require a lot of energy consumption but Sun is trying to change that by developing green technologies to help reduce power.
Today we are going to talk to some Sun executives. They're going to show us eco friendly innovations that they are selling to customers and how they're implementing energy efficient ideas within their own company.
It's all next on The Green Enterprise.
Sumi: Sun Microsystems has been a leader in developing innovative hardware and software solutions since the company was founded in 1982. Their latest efforts are in corporate environmentalism, implementing eco friendly initiatives, such as designing energy efficient data centers and creating a flexible workspace program for its employees.
It's a strategy Sun believes will be good for the environment but also the bottom line. Dave Douglas is the company's "green evangelist." He writes an eco blog that he posts on the web and is in charge of the environmental innovations taking place at Sun. We talked to him about the company's green plans and his role as the "eco boss."
Sumi: So, Dave, thank you for joining me today.
Dave Douglas: Thanks, it's great to be here.
Sumi: You are the V.P. of Eco Responsibility. Sort of an unusual title. Explain to me what that encompasses. What your responsibilities are?
My responsibilities really encompass all of Sun's environmental activities and it ranges from everything of our internal operations. So what are we doing about employee commuting? What energy use do we use in our own building?
What do we do in our cafeterias as far as plates and silverware? To our products, which have a big impact on the world. They use a lot of electricity. Recycling efforts. All that sort of stuff.
So it's very much a comprehensive program, looking at every aspect of how we do business.
Sumi: Big companies, in general, usually have a reputation for generating a lot of waste and consuming a lot of energy. What is Sun doing to sort of counteract that stereotype.
Dave: Well, we're doing efforts on two different levels. The first are in the area of our products. We have very energy efficient servers. We're doing a lot of work in data centers, that we're both doing internally and sharing that with our customers about how to build more energy efficient data centers.
And we're doing some very innovative projects like Black Box, which is really rethinking what a data center is from scratch in a much more efficient way. After all that we have a big recycling and take back program, where we'll take anything we sell back and are very good at recycling it and reusing all the stuff that makes up our products.
On the internal side, we've really focused around things that make a fundamental difference in how we operate. So, one of our biggest programs is our Open Work program that lets our employees work more flexibly from wherever. Our motto of the company is: the network is the computer. So, the question is: can't we use that as far as letting our employees work from wherever makes sense on a given day.
We've got a program where over half of our employees are into this distributive work program and are spending three or more days a week out of our offices, but still connected in through the networks and technology.
Sumi: It seems, right now, that green is kind of the new black. It's kind of cool to be environmentally conscious. How do the employees know and how do your customers know that this isn't just a flash in the pan? That you're not going to just jumping on the bandwagon to sort of take advantage of this green momentum, so to speak?
Dave: Yeah. So, I think that's an excellent question. It's easy to get all excited and get kind of hype y about this stuff. We've really tried to put the focus on numbers, on real results and measurements. We found a lot of power in feeding those back into the employees, letting them know, hey, when you guys turn off the lights, it actually made a difference. Here's how many kilowatts we saved.
We do the same thing with our customers. Here's how much power this server can save vs. what you are doing today. We're trying to boil it down and just be honest with ourselves and not get caught up in the hype, but instead, focus on delivering real results.
Sumi: You had mentioned that your products that are green are selling with customers. But in what ways is Sun reaping sort of cost benefits? In what ways are they saving from these green strategies?
Dave: Yeah. So, our Open Work program is one case where we are saving $60 million dollars a year to date, because we've been able to close offices. Employees aren't commuting in and using them anymore. That's been a big savings. Our own data centers: we just completed the data center in this facility where we are right now. We're saving a million dollars a year in energy in that facility, because of improvements we made in the equipment and the way they are air conditioned and so forth.
Very exciting savings and once we made those improvements; we get those savings every year, pretty much forever. So, it's a great, great step forward.
Sumi: What's the future, though?
Dave: Well, I think the future is a lot more of the same. Really, the end goal is to be able to operate as a very, very efficient company with a very minimal footprint on the environment. And more importantly, to help our customers do the same thing. I think that's really...there isn't an end point, per se; it's really a journey that we see ourselves going down.
Sumi: You might discover more stuff along the way?
Woman1: Dave Douglas, thank you very much.
Dave: Thank you.
Sumi: To get a better idea of the projects Sun is working on, we took a tour around their main campus. Our first stop, Sun's new energy efficient data center.
Sumi: Sun decided to get serious about re designing the data center after calculating that energy use was accounting for roughly two to three percent of the total world's power. At their campus in Silicon Valley, they created a model for what they believe is the next generation green data center.
D. Nelson is part of the team responsible for building the eco friendly design.
D. Nelson: We designed these data centers to be scaleable. Right, and modular. And we simplified the design by creating the pod concept. And that is a group of racks that have a certain amount of power and cooling and cabling and other requirements. You are able to spec those, base line them, figure out what the growth will be and then you replicate that and you do your entire infrastructure as far as total load.
So, it simplifies the approach. Then when you start to apply things like hardware replacement, you can get massive compression of equipment space and then massive utility reductions as well. It's everything from the rack level, all the way to the system, all the way out to the plant that supports it.
This is a hot aisle containment and it's really a room inside of a room. So it has a door that caps off the end. And a roof that caps off the top. To make sure that you can actually trap all the heat inside of this room. So as we go in here, people can't really sense it, but it's hot inside of this room.
What the equipment does, it sucks the cold air from the outside through the equipment itself. The heat is now generated in here and it sucks back through this cooling unit, creating the loop. Now, this neutralizes the heat right at the source. The efficient part of this is: everything is trapped so that heat doesn't escape into the room and mix with the cool air, which becomes extremely inefficient in traditional data centers.
This one is, all that heat is going to be neutralized at its source. The other thing is these units are very energy efficient from a dynamic sense. They will sense the temperature inside this room and they will speed their fans up or slow them down, based on that temperature. So they only use the power that they need to use. They are extremely efficient from that side.
We're actually in the cold aisle right now. So, this is the other side of the hot aisle containment. The cold air is blowing through these units and being sucked back in to the hot aisle that we saw earlier. The great thing here is you can see everything that is actually loaded. When we brought the people into this data center, day one, they actually had more equipment than they originally had anticipated, so the load was higher than expected.
And what we had to do is just snap another unit in and we doubled our cooling capacity and the problem was gone the next day.
Sumi: These are models of project Black Box. They are portable data centers built into shipping containers. The goal is to reinvent the conventional data center by delivering space, energy and performance efficiency.
Sumi: The Black Box team is re designing the traditional data center by creating power efficiencies in a more tightly integrated system.
Bob Boppet: With the Black Box because it is a closed environment, is really designed to be sealed.
Sumi: Bob Boppet is a Vice President with the Eco Responsibility group.
Bob: What we ve done is we packed the server racks very tightly, one right next to the other. We have integrated the design of heat exchangers between every two server racks. So what happens is, the air flows in a very, very tight closed loop.
There's no interchange of air between the outside and the inside of the Black Box. You'll find that the Black Box is on the average, about 20% more efficient, in terms of its cooling requirements than a traditional data center.
So this is where the chilled water comes into the Black Box and the heated up water comes out. And so these are the external connections. This is literally one of those things that you park in your parking lot and just add water.
This is the center aisle. So as you walk down this way, you will see all the server racks, the eight banks of servers. If we want to let's say, remove a server or add more memory to a server, we have this slider too down here. We lock it in. We lock the whole thing in that lifts the rack just a little bit. We then move the whole rack out into the aisle.
Sumi: While Sun Microsystems is focused on creating green technology solutions for its customers; they are also trying to develop green practices within their own organization.
Sumi: One such program is Open Work, a mobile workspace project that lets Sun employees work wherever they want, whether it's at home or a drop in location. The program helps the environment by reducing the company's need for real estate and by cutting CO2 emissions on the highway.
Sumi: Tell us what happens here.
Ann Bamesberger: Well, if this were lunchtime, which it is approaching, what you'll see is people between destinations.
If I were on my way to a meeting, I would be able to, if I had 15, 20 minutes, I would be able to drop in here, send a quick email and then move on to my meeting.
Sumi: How do people use them?
Ann: Well, I can give you an example from myself, actually, because I pretty much was working from home this morning before I came in, to come see you here. I left my workstation and pulled out my identity, which is my card.
This particular Java card will know that it's me and I can walk up to any one of these. I obviously don't own it, right? What I own is on the net. And put in my card and very quickly it will give me a prompt to tell me that the display is locked because it is secure. I give it my password, which is what allows us our security. Log on, and boom, it just pops up exactly where I left it.
I can take this out again. It will shut down for anyone else who wants to come up and use it. And I have just been productive, even though I'm on my way between a destination with you and then a meeting.
Sumi: You don't necessarily have to run back to your office to send an email or fire up your laptop.
Sumi: As you've just seen Sun is researching and implementing the latest green technologies within their company and for their customers.
Stay tuned. In the weeks ahead, we'll show you what other companies are doing to green their enterprise.