Craig Larscheid: The energy manager

An environmentally conscious manager of midrange computer operations at the U.S. Postal Service made numerous “green” decisions that reduced costly power consumption

Craig Larscheid doesn’t think going green is some trendy discussion point. It’s at the core of what he does every day as the manager of midrange computer operations at the U.S. Postal Service, and it is the biggest part of the future he is working toward.

“USPS has a strong mission to use environmentally friendly ways for everything,” he said. “It has to be the underlying motivation for everything you do.”

That’s become a challenge with the Unix infrastructure he manages, which has expanded fourfold to about 1,200 servers since he started work at USPS as a contractor in 2000. They handle many of the agency’s most critical applications. But the servers use a lot of costly power, in addition to the energy necessary to keep the heat they pump out at manageable levels.

USPS realized some time ago that it was heading for a crunch.

“We have finite real estate [to house servers] and a finite amount of cooling we can use,” Larscheid said. “So environmentally conscious [methods have] to be the way to go.”

Larscheid realized the Unix servers were operating inefficiently, so he designed a program to replace them with more modern servers. That solved many problems at once. Besides boosting server utilization by 50 percent, the newer servers are also more energy-efficient.

His organization received funding for the server modernization program in June. The upgrades had to be completed by August. Understandably, he and his team “worked a whole lot of hours” in that period, Larscheid said.

Along the way, they had to develop some innovative solutions, such as new programming scripts and other products that have dramatically reduced the time it takes to upgrade systems, said Rich Lena, Larscheid’s boss as USPS’ manager of host computing services.

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“We can now move almost overnight from one generation of computers to another,” Lena said. “It would have taken four weeks to do that in the past, and now I can do an application migration in a weekend.”

Larscheid said the challenge of tackling such big jobs motivates him. Those challenges brought him to USPS in the first place after he had been working at small companies with small networks. New challenges will keep him occupied for at least the next few years as he grapples with introducing technologies such as storage virtualization and reducing the number of servers to one-quarter what the agency has now.

“The key is being able to navigate a way [to this goal], to marketing ideas, talking to agency executives, gathering the resources needed and so on,” Larscheid said. “I love to see something that can be changed that way.”

USPS had “not had tremendous success” in the Unix area until Larscheid brought his organizational skills and leadership to the problems, Lena said.

Those abilities may take him much further. Lena said Larscheid, even at a relatively young age, has been placed in a succession program that will prepare him to take over Lena’s job when he leaves.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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