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Why General Motors Went Green (But Not Cloud)

GM's new data center lands LEED certification as the automaker continues insourcing IT operations.

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General Motors is in the midst of shutting down 23 data centers worldwide and moving its computing into two modern data centers that the company is building in Michigan. The choices GM makes along the way are interesting for anyone curious about the future of large-scale business computing.

One decision GM made is to go green. This week, the company announced it achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its Warren, Mich., data center, the first of its two new data centers. Tactics include using Michigan's cool outside air to chill water, so three-fourths of the year the servers' cooling system can remain off, GM says. It's also using a generator-plus-flywheel system for backup power instead of what it calls a "space-hogging battery-based uninterruptible power supply" that's commonly used. GM is using in-row cooling to contain heat and generally move less air.

It's good PR for a car and truck company to tout a green initiative. But that PR benefit exists for many companies, and most still don't consider green IT a high priority. One percent of InformationWeek 500 companies put "eco-friendly IT" among their top three tech innovation priorities this year, and less than 5% of data centers get LEED certification.

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GM IT has the advantage of a corporate "green infrastructure"; the company has four other LEED-certified buildings so it knows how the process works, and it has "green construction" practices that let it recycle 99% of material from the data center building site. IT shops without those company standards "would struggle at getting over that first hurdle" of getting executive commitment to shoot for a LEED-certified data center, said Jeff Liedel, GM executive director of global IT operations.

But companies don't do energy efficiency just for PR. The economic bang comes from the new data center using 70% less energy than GM used with its previous data centers to generate the same computing power. GM supports green initiatives, but the IT team still needed to convince executives that the data center could be LEED standard and "that we can still make the business case work," said Curt Loehr, GM IT manager of the data center construction.

A second decision GM made is to build this massive data center at all, rather than rent infrastructure-as-a-service capacity from super-efficient cloud providers such as Amazon, Rackspace or Verizon Terremark. The reasons? Cost, integration and speed, explained CIO Randy Mott.

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On the cost front, "those companies you mention have a goal of making a profit," said Mott. Given its huge scale, GM expects to be able to run a data center as efficiently as those providers and thus beat vendors on overall cost. Plus, GM needs its data centers' computing capacity to be highly integrated into GM operations, serving application and data needs from car design to manufacturing to marketing analytics.

GM is in the first year of a three-year plan to insource nearly all of its IT operations, going from 90% outsourced to 90% insourced. That move is part of GM's larger "strategy around change," Mott said, so IT must respond quickly to changing business needs. Integration and speed are "ingredients that don't necessarily get talked about" with cloud or other outsourced approaches, Mott said, but they are " key enablers for us."

GM is building its second data center in Milford, Mich., with the same commitment to go for LEED certification.

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User Rank: Apprentice
9/15/2014 | 3:55:05 AM
Proportional Valve - PV Global
Thanks for the information shared by you, it is useful for me.
User Rank: Strategist
10/2/2013 | 12:29:14 AM
re: Why General Motors Went Green (But Not Cloud)
GM, knowingly or otherwise, is borrowing ideas from Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay and Microsoft as it builds its "green" data center. So will other companies. GM is not so much rejecting cloud as adopting its innovations and architecture internally. The more thoroughly it does so, the easier it will be one day to integrate those operations with a public cloud. Right now it's in an outside-in phase, reversing years of outsourcing. i wouldn't be surprised to see Randy Mott's successor (at some distant future date) try another inside-out phase.
User Rank: Author
9/23/2013 | 6:09:28 PM
re: Why General Motors Went Green (But Not Cloud)
you're right, and that's where a lot of big companies are these days. but i often hear data security and control as a big reason for sticking with private cloud rather than public. this offers other reasons -- integration, speed and cost advantages -- more prominently.
User Rank: Apprentice
9/22/2013 | 2:03:39 AM
re: Why General Motors Went Green (But Not Cloud)
Because they did not go Public Cloud does not mean they did not go Private cloud and I bet they did
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/20/2013 | 3:54:16 PM
re: Why General Motors Went Green (But Not Cloud)
A data center with 70% lower energy use? That seems like a win-win for environmental and economic stewardship. Those who complain about "tree huggers" and "unreasonable burdens on business" would do well to follow GM's example. Maybe self-regulation programs like LEED will make it more palatable than government-regulation-enforced compliance standards. But if "less than 5%" of IT centers are being certified, maybe we need to see tastier carrots (tax rebates?) or lightweight sticks (basic, building-code-enforced standards).
User Rank: Author
9/20/2013 | 3:42:34 PM
re: Why General Motors Went Green (But Not Cloud)
"Given its huge scale, GM expects to be able to
run a data center as efficiently as those providers and thus beat
vendors on overall cost." This is an intriguing statement, given Amazon's scale. Wonder what techniques GM will bring to bear.
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