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By Steve Sams, vice president of global site and facilities services for IBM. Steve previews new study findings on how leading companies and organizations are operating smarter data centers.

The word ‘efficient’ used to define a data center has most people automatically thinking ‘green’.  But to a CIO or IT leader, it means so much more.  Operational efficiency is critical in every aspect of a data center from the design to the operations of the technology and processes within it.  When the right technologies are applied to build a highly optimized infrastructure, the data center becomes a vehicle for innovation and opportunity.

For decades IT leaders have been applying standard optimization methods in an effort to get more out of their data centers, but the basics are not enough in today’s digitally on-demand world.  People, businesses and governments expect more out of their technology from handheld smartphones to systems in a data center.  Use of all types of technology is dramatically increasing.  In this new era, CIOs are leveraging technologies like big data, cloud and mobile computing to conduct business better, faster and smarter – such as to transform core banking and payment systems, provide more services to citizens or implement smart grids.

So where do companies stand in the journey to an efficient data center today?  To find out, IBM worked with IDC to survey more than 300 global IT leaders to gauge their efficiency.  The survey looked at key measurements including facility operations and management, systems, storage, network, applications, businesses drivers, budget and governance.

The study found that only 21 percent of companies surveyed are operating data centers at the highest level of efficiency. 

The vast majority – some 62 percent are somewhat efficient.  And another 17 percent are operating at a basic level.  Think about how those resources could be fueling business innovation!

Data center efficiency by the numbers:

Download the infographic here.

Those IT leaders who received an ‘A’ on their data center report card are reaping the benefits that efficiency brings back to the business.  These optimized companies are able to spend 50 percent more of their IT budget on new projects and innovation to make their organizations more successful.

Who‘s getting high marks in optimization?  Football fanatics will be happy to know that the NFL is making big plays to transform their technology environment to keep up with the fast evolving business.  The sports entertainment organization partnered with IBM to help with five key projects to optimize their assets and implement service management processes.

The result?  IBM has helped shift the NFL from disparate IT operations to a cohesive and optimized working environment.  The organization has been able to virtualize its server environment from 5 percent so that it is now running at up to 90 percent efficiency, increasing its capacity for data processing and automatically reducing storage provisioning resources by half.

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On the other hand, less efficient data centers and organizations are at a crossroads where they must determine if they’ll take the next step to modernization or operate at their current status.  Today, they lack an overall strategic plan to optimize their data center and create opportunity to invest in new projects.

Want to know how you stack up against the 21 percent?  IBM took a look at the top performing data centers and identified the key characteristics that enabled those companies to be more efficient than others.  Here are four tips to a smarter data center:

  1. Have a plan that aligns with business goals and keep it current.
  2. Optimize your current server, storage, network and facilities assets to maximize capacity and availability.
  3. Design for flexibility to support changing business needs.
  4. Use automation tools to improve service levels and availability.  Less manual manipulation means faster response times.

These actions enable businesses to spend less on maintenance of their current infrastructure and free up budget to spend on innovation.

IBM has applied these concepts to its own data centers over the past two decades and is continuously innovating.  IBM has consolidated and increased efficiency of our data centers while saving $1.25 billion from 2006 to 2011.  We have simplified the infrastructure by virtualizing 65 percent of our servers and implementing automated storage tiering to help us manage 25 percent data growth at flat costs.  By making these changes, IBM has been able to invest in innovation to enhance our own organization as well as the businesses and governments we work with around the globe.

To learn more about the study and register to receive a copy, visit

You can read more about IBM’s internal transformation in the thought leadership paper, Data center flexibility and efficiency: increasing the business value of IT.

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