General Motors Brings IT Back Home

By Tiffany Trader

September 17, 2013

General Motors is one of many successful enterprises ushering in the era of the datacenter. With its 2009 bankruptcy filing firmly in the rearview mirror, General Motors (GM) is once again profitable. Part of this transformation has involved bringing the company’s IT affairs back in-house after nearly two decades of outsourcing.

General Motors Warren Enterprise Data Center – Source: General Motors

The details of the company’s newest state-of-the-art datacenter, in Warren, Michigan, and a companion datacenter at its Milford Proving Ground were the subject of a recent piece in Ars Technica. Built at a cost of $150 million, the Warren Enterprise Data Center is on track to reduce energy consumption for GE’s enterprise IT infrastructure by some 70 percent. Company execs claim that a mix of efficiency and consolidation techniques will enable the building to pay for itself in a mere three years.

The new sites are part of GM’s “digital transformation” strategy. The automaker is actively working to consolidate its IT operations from 23 datacenters around the globe (most of which are leased) down to just two by 2015. The Warren facility has already enfolded three of these. The consolidation strategy is the touchstone of GM’s new policy, and the key to the 70 percent reduction in energy consumption.

The IT reboot has GM hiring its own system engineers and developers for the first time since 1996. The company plans to add 8,500 new IT employees in the next three to five years, and will locate 1,600 of them in Warren. GM CIO Randy Mott told Ars that the company has already brought its internal IT ranks to 7,000 strong from a starting point of about 1,700. The initial boost was a result of converting all of GM’s IT operatives to formal employees. That was the first step, according to Jeff Liedel, GM’s Executive Director and CIO for Infrastructure Engineering. The next step is centralizing control of IT assets.

GM already employs 8,000 engineers at its Vehicle Engineering Center at the Warren datacenter, who are using the advanced systems for computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, and a wide variety of sophisticated simulations.

Cloud is a big part of GM’s computing strategy. “We offer compute infrastructure as a service to the developers in the IT organization,” Liedel said. “I’ve been in IT for 25 years now, and I think ‘We’re waiting for a server’ is a really lame excuse for being late with an IT rollout. The long pole should be the requirements, code or testing.”

Cloud in this respect means automated provisioning. The infrastructure is largely comprised of Hewlett-Packard blade servers in HP C7000 enclosures with additional tools provided by HP, IBM, and VMware. The whole setup supports about 2,500 virtual servers, which can run either SUSE Linux or Microsoft Windows 2008 R2. The GM cloud does not use software-defined networking, but does rely on VPNs and LAN segments. About 12 percent of the datacenter is dedicated to custom-built infrastructure (that is not part of the cloud).

Energy-efficiency was a main focus of this project. The Warren datacenter’s green building concepts have earned it a LEED “gold” certification. The eco-friendly design includes solar-powered electric car charging stations in the parking lot, the recycling of construction waste, and other energy-saving methods.

The datacenter employs 47-inch raised floor, and uses “waterfall” evaporation chillers, “thermal storage” tanks for backup, as well as in-row coolers that can provide targeted cooling to the areas that need it most. For backup power, the datacenter relies on uninterruptible power supplies that use flywheel technology. The stored momentum provides enough power (15 seconds worth) to allow two diesel generators to come online.

“In the IT business, you only get to build a data center once every 20 years or so,” observed Liedel in the Ars piece. “We needed to get this right.”

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