Johnson County aims to go green

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Johnson County officials will plant 340 trees — without picking up a shovel. Rather, the energy saved by consolidating their servers will be equivalent to planting more than 300 trees.

A top priority of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors’ three-year strategic plan involves being “greener.” And today, the supervisors are finding small ways to save energy — and money.

“We always try to watch to see if there’s ways to save money,” said Jean Schultz, the information-technology director for the county.

She said the county began exploring lowering the number of servers it uses by investing in more advanced machines. Instead of having 17 physical servers — which are large and boxy — the county will have two. As of Wednesday, it only had two old servers’ worth of information left to transfer.

The smaller, sleeker servers will generate less power and heat, which will result in lower energy bills, Schultz said. Condensing the servers will also reduce carbon emissions.

In an estimated cost-savings analysis, she said, the conversion could potentially save the county nearly 151,000 pounds of carbon emissions — the equivalent of removing 12 cars from the highway.
The switch could also save the county an estimated $11,000 in annual energy costs.

“That’s huge,” said Supervisor Janelle Rettig after seeing the potential savings estimate.

It worked for Warren County.

The central Iowa county was one of the first to explore server virtualization six years ago.
After officials there downsized from 21 to five physical servers, the county became a hot spot for other counties considering the switch.

“Honestly, we were running out of space,” said Julie Harris, the Warren County IT director and president of Iowa Counties Information Technology.

Solving the space issues allowed the county to save approximately 55 percent of the costs usually associated with the server room, Harris said.

Johnson County may be almost done with its server project, but officials not stopping there — they are searching for other ways to save.

They looked at a recently completed audit to identify ways to save on printing. After gathering data about their printing habits, the results proved they could print more efficiently, Schultz said.

“What we realized is that we had way too many printers,” Rettig said.

In response to the audit, officials eliminated a number of printers and placed only a few in centralized locations. The overhaul will help reduce costs spent on ink and toner and save energy with fewer machines, Schultz said.

While county officials have plenty of ideas to reduce their carbon footprint and save money, Rettig said, it’s hard for all of them to be pushed forward.

Eventually, the county would like to hire someone to be in charge of the county’s green initiatives, Rettig said. But for now, it’s important that all employees think about their decisions, she said.

“We need to have the mindset that with more than 500 employees, everyone is a part of [the solution],” she said.

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