HP Pitches ‘City 2.0’

WASHINGTON — If it works for a datacenter, why not a city?

Here at the FOSE expo, an annual confab for government technology workers, a team of executives from Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HP) pitched a flexible, energy-efficient computing model to a crowd of federal IT managers. Chandrakant Patel, director of HP Labs, offered the ambitious promise that the same way datacenters are cutting costs and energy could be applied to infrastructure across cities or larger regions.

He calls it City 2.0.

“If you think of resources as a pool of available energy — renewable and nonrenewable — from which we are drawing, our contention is if you can take this IT ecosystem and seamlessly integrate it into the next generation of physical infrastructure, we will have a net positive impact by using less of the available energy, thereby leaving the available energy for future generations to enjoy,” Patel said.

The goal, he said, is to “create sustainable IT services so that billions can use IT — get off the physical bus onto the IT bus. In order to get those billions across the world, we need to reduce the cost of IT services.”

Patel’s vision of municipal or regional “microgrids,” where local officials can use advanced sensors and other IT mechanisms to efficiently and remotely manage infrastructure systems like energy and water, seems very much in step with the times. The recently enacted economic stimulus package is allocating billions of dollars to the so-called smart grid and other projects to make the country’s infrastructure more efficient.

HP’s talk also found a receptive audience in the government IT community. Facing budget cuts across the board, government IT managers are directed to do more with less, and make their datacenters more energy-efficient in the process. President Obama has also made it clear that he is betting that government will act as the engine of economic recovery, at least in the short term.

At the same time, the government is feeling the twin strains of rising entitlement costs from an aging population, and a younger class of citizens who are coming to expect the same level of online interaction with government that they find in social networking communities like Facebook.

Taken together, these circumstances represent a “perfect storm” for the IT managers tasked with providing the systems to make it all happen, said Suparno Banjeree, vice president of global government industry for EDS, the services giant HP purchased last year.

“The government of the U.S. is one of the largest and most complex enterprises we find,” Banjeree said.

“How do you manage all of these conflicting pressures in a contracting budget situation?” he asked. “The only way out is innovation.”

Of course, the talk from the panel of HP executives was as much of a sales pitch as it was a training session. HP maintains a lively government contracting business, one which it would love to expand as more federal agencies warm up to the cloud and virtualization technologies that are sweeping across the private sector.

They offered up their own company as a case study. In 2005, HP was saddled with more than 85 datacenters around the world supporting more than 6,000 disparate applications. The company embarked on a sweeping consolidation project, creating six new virtualized datacenters and shuttering all the old ones, whittling the number of applications down to 1,600.

By the numbers, HP found that the inefficient computing apparatus was sucking more than 65 percent of the company’s spending into legacy costs. By 2008, HP boasted that it was spending 70 percent on innovation and customer support.

“We flipped the formula,” said Willie Coleman, HP’s director of federal IT.

In the same period, HP increased computing capacity by 250 percent while cutting its total server count by 40 percent, yielding $1 billion in annual savings.

“Not only have significantly reduced our IT spend, we are more effectively using that spend to do more with less and provide a better benefit to our company,” Coleman said.

Virtualization in the datacenter is nothing new, but HP is betting that it can take it to another level — one that could eventually scale to citywide infrastructure — with a project it has undertaken in Bangalore. There, the company has installed a datacenter equipped with 7,500 sensors that aggregate information across the facility every 10 seconds, modulating power drains like the blowers required to keep the equipment cool.

“The datacenter does not have to feel like a refrigerator,” said Patel, adding that most of today’s datacenters are “grossly over-provisioned,” unable to cut energy consumption at times of low demand.

He is betting that same concept will translate into physical infrastructure, just as other major tech firms like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) are hopping on the smart grid bandwagon.

“If we are going to rebuild the economy we need to make sure that we reduce the cost of the necessity — the fundamental necessity — and the only way to reduce the cost of fundamental necessities is to use the IT ecosystem,” Patel said.

“The intent is that the datacenter is at the center of the city, there are resource microgrids around the datacenter, and the next generation of infrastructure that we will build in the United States will have the IT ecosystem seamlessly integrated.”

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