National Australia Bank (NAB) is in the midst of an energy reduction program that touches everything from IT to the travel fleet, including an overhaul of its data centers. And as green initiatives advance in the U.S., the $782 billion-asset bank is showing how a large institution is approaching energy policy for a complex organization.

The bank's Beyond Carbon Neutral program is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% per staffer from current levels by 2013, and reduce waste and paper by 20%. So far, NAB says it's reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% (or about 52,000 tons of carbon dioxide) in the past couple of years using strategies such as carbon offsets, a process by which a firm reduces emissions in one part of its business to compensate for carbon emissions made in another. It's also embarked on a $6.5 million project that's modernizing data storage through the construction of new facilities, modern temperature controls and the use of advanced provisioning techniques such as "platform as a service" to match server utilization to demand. The overall energy use overhaul includes more than 350 different projects.

While energy policy and "green IT" have traditionally taken a back seat to more immediate tech matters such as compliance, channel development and security, an increasing number of banks are finding benefits in new energy policies, particularly in the data center, making green IT an increasingly mainstream part of resource management.

NAB is a member of the Open Data Center Alliance, a consortium formed to encourage and guide the use of cloud computing, and the bank recently presented its experiences to that group. This week, Dennis McGee, NAB's general manager of application development and testing, detailed the bank's overall green strategy to BTN.

BTN: What is the structure of the Beyond Carbon Neutral project?
McGee: NAB engages various consultants and suppliers [the bank did not identify specific firms] on an as-required basis to assist us in the delivery of the program. NAB's agreements with suppliers align objectives with our Beyond Carbon Neutral agenda. We leverage the experience and expertise of our partners/suppliers … NAB's [existing] 25% reduction in 'business as usual' emissions was achieved through the collaboration of dedicated resources in property, technology, procurement … as well as through our employee green team. Adopting a multidisciplinary approach has enabled us to draw on an expertise from across our business to prioritize the most cost effective emission reduction initiatives.

What is the mix of tech measures and construction techniques?
NAB's property and technology teams have collaborated to deliver a broad range of emission-reduction initiatives. That includes refurbishment of our property portfolio, including environmental requirements in our property design and performance standards; transition to a more fuel efficient vehicle fleet [about 30% of its cars are now hybrids] and amendments to our travel policy to encourage increased uptake of teleconferencing and video conferencing to reduce travel … [we're also using] automatic shutdown of PCs not in use and installing more efficient office equipment.

How do tech and construction projects intersect?
NAB is converging a large amount of its technology infrastructure from many buildings. Multiple small data centers and computer rooms will be consolidated into two large data centers that will improve efficiencies via the sharing of platforms and economies of scale. This also reduces the overall physical technology footprint for infrastructure and services across branches and call centers.

How is tech being used at the workstation to improve efficiency?
We're expanding our use of video conferencing and wireless local area networks [LAN] to improve mobility. [We're also using] flexi-desking [furniture design that allows desks to be expanded or contracted for scalability]. …The tangible effects of this are reduced travel, paperless meetings and real-time collaboration that reduces document versions of meetings.

What makes the data center such a vital part of a "green strategy"?

As approximately 45 % of NAB's energy is used by our two main data centers, addressing data center energy use is critical to delivering further emission reductions. The data center transformation program will allow NAB to consolidate multiple smaller data centers and computer rooms … a standard [use] pattern-based approach is being utilized to maximize virtualization, data deduplication [and] wireless area network acceleration to improve remote response and video conferencing. The new data center server floor plan spreads load throughout the data halls based on usage type to ensure the best utilization of available power and cooling, and to cater for future growth.

How are you using server virtualization?
The [main new] data center will be fitted out with a [use] pattern-based infrastructure and an on demand private cloud platform. This will allow services to be utilized by the business units via a consumption-based model. [NAB didn't specifically name the cloud provider, but has outsourced most of the bank's data center infrastructure to IBM, and plans to use an "infrastructure on demand" model in which functionality is scaled based on demand. The platform is expected to be ready by 2013, and the bank plans to use the model to consolidate 2,000 servers in its data center by 2014.]

How is the data center cooled?
[We are] using free air cooling, which greatly reduces water consumption when compared with water-chilled cooling. [In free air cooling], cool air is provided under the raised floor of the server center with air vents placed directly in front of the cabinets containing circuitry. The cabinets are enclosed on three sides with chimney hoods directing the hot air into the ceiling cavity. This ensures that the cooling is focused where it is needed and not wasted on cooling the rest of the data halls … and improving power distribution [via power busways] to the cabinets enables utilization and effective phase balancing.

What are some of the challenges that you have encountered in the project?
The most significant challenge to date is the ongoing increase in energy demand on our data centers, in line with business growth. We are addressing this challenge via virtualization and consolidation of platforms along with a focus on decommissioning aging infrastructure. … Equally as important is the coordination of multiple partners/vendors, the alignment of schedules/priorities with internal business units and the maintenance of business continuity during migration. Thorough planning and in-depth analysis, dependency mapping of applications and business continuity reviews prior to commencing migration will assist in overcoming these challenges.