05 March 2009

Green IT: Wireless Saves Money, Helps The Planet

Earlier postings on this blog highlighted the environmental downsides of wired LANs, and the benefits of using a Wi-Fi network as the primary means of accessing an enterprise network. For many readers, however, money is where the rubber meets the road. Is it possible to champion Green IT by shifting to Wi-Fi AND save money?

As a staunch advocate of both Green IT and wireless, Aruba felt it should validate what it preaches by rightsizing its own enterprise network - eliminating as much of the wired LAN as possible, replacing it with a wireless network, and then assessing the savings, if any. Under the leadership of our Senior IT Director, Murali Mahalingam, we did just that - we rightsized Aruba’s IT infrastructure. In the process we not only dramatically lowered expenses but also increased employee productivity and reduced the company’s resource footprint.

The first step was to review the performance of both our wired and wireless LANs to determine which best satisfied the majority of our application requirements while offering the lowest cost method of network access. The wireless LAN (WLAN) was determined superior on both counts. As a result we deployed high-speed 802.11n WLANs for >90% of our 500+ employees, and used a traditional wired LAN only for those employees who needed Gigabit Ethernet speeds in excess of the capability of the WLAN.

A single WLAN was configured for data and voice applications for use by all Aruba employees located at our corporate headquarters, remote, branch offices, and home offices. We averaged roughly 15 users per wireless access point. We also provided this solution to the road warriors in our sales force, all of whom connect to the network while traveling.

We also enable true mobility for users by providing wireless connections for voice clients (such as Wi-Fi connected desk phones from snom) and dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular handsets for all employees at our corporate headquarters, remote, branch offices.

Finally, we replaced virtual private network (VPN) clients and secure tokens with Aruba’s Remote Access Point (RAP) technology for all road warriors and employees who work remotely from home offices. RAP is a low-cost solution that combines a wireless access point with VPN security and policy enforcement firewall. The beauty of RAP is that it does not require any software to be installed on the laptop, PDA, smart phone or other devices with which it is used. RAP is also plug-and play: following initial provisioning by the IT department, no further management or configuration of the RAP is needed. Instead, the employee simply plugs the RAP into a local network (or plugs in a 3G cellular modem) and RAP automatically establishes a secure tunnel with our primary or back-up data center, establishes the corporate SSID, and initiates a secure session for both data and voice (including corporate phone extension calling).

These steps enabled us to simplify our wiring closets by converting a large portion of wired ports to wireless. As a result we needed many fewer data switches. This reduced data room power consumption, increased operating time from our back-up battery uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and reduced cooling loading on our air conditioning system. The net result has been a lower utility bill and a reduction in the tons of CO2 emissions per year associated with equipment cooling.

We were also able to lower cabling and IT support costs associated with office adds, moves, and changes. These might seem incidental, but for many enterprises the costs and wasted cabling quickly add up. For example, we recently merged a nearby engineering center for our AirWave division into our corporate headquarters facility. By leveraging our wireless network instead of installing 2-4 new cable drops per relocated employee, we used 10km less Category 5 copper cable.

From a sustainability perspective, cable insulation, cable management/trunking systems, and wiring device accessories like plugs and boots, are make of PVC, polyethylene, polypropylene, synthetic rubber, MIC, nylon, and phenol formaldehyde. Each of the constituent chemicals has an impact on the environment when the part is made, when it’s used, should it catch fire, and when it is discarded. For example PVC is a commonly used insulation material, and contains lead and other toxic chemicals. Not only does it require special handling at the disposal site – something it rarely receives – but it produces highly toxic chemicals when burned. Polyethylene, polypropylene, synthetic rubber, and nylon are only slightly less toxic. See The Green Building Handbook for more details about the environmental impact of wiring according to energy consumption, resource consumption, global warming, acid rain, ozone depletion, toxicity, photochemical smog, occupational health, recycling impact, and hormone disruption

In terms of expense reduction (read monetary savings), we were able to reduce corporate telecom expenses by using voice-over-Wi-Fi at our headquarters, remote offices and home office locations. When a user goes home and turns on his/her laptop, they are automatically logged into the corporate LAN via RAP. Their Wi-Fi enabled mobile phone will auto-register and support corporate VOIP calls instantly with no additional set up. A user with a Wi-Fi enabled mobile phone can dial a 4-digit extension number to call colleagues in a branch office anywhere in the world at no cost. Additionally, the user can make external calls leveraging the corporate IP PBX. Both of these benefits decrease billable cell phone usage, lowering our telecommunication expenses.

Off-site meetings at shows and partner events are also less expensive since a single RAP provides all attendees with access to the corporate network. Some RAP models include 3G cellular connections, allowing low-cost cellular to be used in lieu of expensive convention/hotel Ethernet for WAN connectivity. No client software or IT overhead is required to handle such meetings.

Additional savings were achieved with respect to our work with business partners. For example, Aruba’s offshore SAP Managed Services Team, based in India, was set up in less than one day for about 20 shared-service resources. Only a one-time set up of all user accounts was required on the wireless controller. RAP devices were shipped to the SAP consultant in India, who had only to plug them into a local WAN to obtain secure access to our SAP implementation and voice over Wi-Fi calling. We’re current expanding this model to other Aruba business partners and hundreds of remote and mobile workers.

As a result of this project, Aruba reduced the utilization of costly wired ports by overlaying wireless LAN access for the majority of our work force. We reduced the number of closet switches and lowered power and cooling requirements up to 20%. Employee office moves no longer require IT support as the users can now sign-on to a single corporate SSID from anywhere in the world using wireless access. Deploying a wireless office saved on upfront, non-refundable costs such as a cubicle wiring - this has reduced IT network administration costs by 10-15%. Mobile employees can now connect their laptops to the corporate LAN without local IT assistance, regardless of the county in which they’re operating. This eliminates the need for local IT network administrators in branch offices. Nor is IT assistance required to install VPN clients, issue secure tokens, or deal with VPN misconfiguration and client problems. By deploying RAP devices with build in VPN capabilities, we actually gained more control and insight into remote clients for trouble-shooting purposes.

Total # of network users: 500
Size of existing facilities (in square feet): 60,000
Average number moves/add/changes per year, per employee: 0.50

Estimated Cost of the legacy wired network
Number of switch ports required to support current users: 1,200
Number of access layer switches required for current usage: 26
Annual Capital Expense to support the 'Wired Edge': $182,888
Annual Operating Expense to support the 'Wired Edge': $83,417
Total annual cost of the 'Wired Edge': $266,305

The New 'Rightsized Network'
Number of switch ports decommissioned after Rightsizing: 675
Number of switches decommissioned after Rightsizing: 14
Annual reduction in costs through Rightsizing: $149,796

3-Year Cost Assessment
Reduction in 'Rightsized Network' Costs (3 years): $449,389
Total 3-year cost savings through Rightsizing: $398,546

Savings Summary (Projected savings over next 3 years)
Savings from “Network Rightsizing”: $398,546
Savings from reduced IT support costs: $200,000
Savings from increased use of Vo-FI calling: $600,000
Savings from power, cabling and cooling costs: $ 50,000
Total projected savings over 3 years: $ 1,248,546

Is it possible to champion Green IT by shifting to Wi-Fi AND save money? You bet. Aruba’s IT infrastructure is living proof that Green IT can both save money and help the planet.