For Marriott, Green IT is Reality, Not Hype

ORLANDO, FLA. — As one Marriott International (NYSE: MAR) technology leader told a crowded ballroom today at Storage Networking World, going “green” isn’t about environmentalism; it’s about saving “green” — money that is.

While the brand name–lodging conglomerate, which features 550,000 rooms across 3,000 properties in 67 countries, has done its fair share to help save the rain forests — helping to preserve 1.4 million acres in Brazil in the last 20 years — and reduce energy costs across all operations, its IT teams are doing their fair share as well these days.

“There’s a statistic that about 29 percent of technology professionals believe that ‘green IT’ is just hype,” Ed Goldman, vice president, technology strategy, for Marriott, told his standing-room-only audience. “I hope to lessen that number by sharing what we’ve been doing in the datacenter and throughout our computing environments.”

With increasing technology utilities costs, such as electricity, more IT teams are turning to “green” strategies to reduce energy costs. One recent EPA draft report noted that tech departments should expect to spend half of their total budget on energy.

At Marriott, the IT team has not only jumped on the green bandwagon, it’s driving it at an accelerated pace. Its efforts were noted by the organization being named one of the top 12 green firms in the country.

The $13 billion dollar company, which employees 151,000 people as well as 120,000 franchise personnel, runs a “non for profit” IT organization, which charges user groups for everything from PCs to bandwidth in a “very cost-conscious” approach, Goldman explained.

With a motto of “consolidate, innovate, automate,” and a “do more with less” corporate culture, it’s managed to retain a flat IT budget for several years while increasing IT services needed for increasing properties and personnel.

“When you can do ‘green IT’ on the grand scale like we operate, you can achieve substantial savings,” said Goldman, noting that just swapping out old desktops for new think clients and energy-efficient hardware in datacenters and network ops can be financially rewarding for a company.

Marriott replaced 3,000 PC with thin clients, “turned the screws up” and virtualized about 40 percent of its server farms and 75 percent of its storage area networks. That virtualization effort saved 33 percent in future server costs, the IT leader said.

In the datacenter, Marriott plugged in more efficient units to reduce cooling costs, as well as new flooring that directs airflow for maximum temperature efficiency.

“Our datacenter is 20 years old and just a few years ago had 15-year-old boxers. We had to do more than replace them; we had to do a lot of work in the hot and cool aisles,” he told the crowd.

His team took down antiquated cooling towers on the datacenter building roof and replaced them with cheaper and more energy-efficient units.

In the computing environment, the Marriott rolled out a standard desktop and laptop configuration to take advantage of built-in power options that allow IT to power down PCs when not in use. It replaced 10,000 laptops with new Energy Star–compliant models and will continue that effort as part of the company’s three-year device rollout program.

Old equipment, from PCs to mobile phones, is outsourced for proper and cost-effective recycling and disposal.

Marriott supports employee telecommuting, and in response IT has put one-third of applications online. In addition, it uses a VPN network for the remaining software tools. It’s plugged in softphones in calling centers.

“Where we’re going is focused on saving both kinds of ‘green.’ We’re continuing to move more applications into the online secured environment to save on datacenter costs. Right now 80 percent of our data center is virtualized,” he said.

The goal, according to Goldman, is a “gridlike” computing environment for users, and to make that happen he plans on using service-oriented architecture technology to include third-party applications to which users also need access. He’s also working on reducing platforms from six down to three for standardization efficiencies.

“That grid capability will save money and provide greater flexibility,” he added, noting that one of Marriott’s biggest ‘green IT’ efforts is taking place underground.

His team is working with a third-party provider to locate a recovery and development data center underground in a Pennsylvania cave. The ambient temperate of 50 to 60 degrees is perfect for heating and cooling purposes, and using remote online systems there is little labor or energy requirements, he explained.

While he couldn’t provide a total ‘green IT’ savings, Goldman said the green initiatives have cut disk drive costs by 20 percent, and at least 30 to 35 percent in the computing environment.

“The best indicator is that we’ve kept our budget flat while delivering 20 percent more capability in the past few years,” he said, noting there’s still a lot more work to be done.

Our data-archiving strategy is very manual, and we’re looking for tools that will help consolidate and automate that aspect. Going green for us means saving money.”

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