Green IT’s Increasing Importance to Business Leadership

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In my last article, I discussed how IT leaders can reduce their environmental and financial impact by taking several steps to cut their overall energy use and related expenses. But there are many other actions IT leaders can take to realize additional benefits.

1. Measure Your Data Center Energy Usage

As with most worthy business problems, it helps to have some information on hand to help you figure out where the problems are so that you can determine the best places to focus your attention. The purpose of a data center and the information systems it supports is to be the central nervous system providing all of the information needed to manage each of the different parts of your business. Considering this fact, it is pretty ironic that IT leadership often has very little information about their own operations.

One of the blind spots within IT is the amount of energy they use. In many cases, IT leaders are never even aware of how much energy they consume. As a result, they do not even consider energy expenses in their decision-making. Companies that start paying attention to energy use and costs realize that IT – in partnership with facilities leadership – can have a significant positive impact.

In a previous article, I talked about the concept called “Energy Intelligence,” which says that companies can quickly determine ways to reduce energy use in facilities if they first look at where and how they are using energy. This same concept applies to data centers.

In data centers, you want to gather information about the energy use of all of the devices that are consuming power, such as servers and storage devices etc. But, just as importantly, you will gather information about what all of these devices are doing with their energy. For example, look at the actual work performed by those devices, such as:

  • How utilized were the CPUs of these servers in the given time period?
  • How much of the available disk space is being utilized in that time period?
  • How many database transactions were processed by the database’s servers in the same time that you consumed the energy?
  • How many Web pages were served up by the Web servers in the same time that you consumed the energy?
  • You could even track “work” in terms of business activities, such as how many calls were logged by the call center that this data center is serving, how many orders were placed, or how many stock trades were handled.

By looking at the work performed by the data center and also looking at the related energy consumed, you can develop a much more informed perspective about where the inefficiencies lie. For example, you may find that there are many servers or storage devices that are not being used very much; they are wasting a lot of energy and money just sitting there. Recent surveys have found that roughly 15 percent of servers are not doing any useful work. These devices could become candidates to be retired or their low use functions could be moved to virtualized servers and storage. The trick is to first find which ones are not being very useful.
You may also find that one of your data centers is operating much more efficiently than others. For example, one of your data centers may be using a lot less energy to process the same amount of customer orders. This information could lead you to try to repeat the more efficient practices in the underperforming data centers.

2. Consider Using Alternative Energy

Although not yet widely adopted, there are often new stories of data centers that either generate electricity or provide cooling from alternative energy sources such as fuel cells at First National as well as wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric at Yahoo and Microsoft. Despite concerns about the fact that these alternative energy approaches can often be more expensive on a per-kilowatt basis, if you read further you can see that the companies have been able to adapt these technologies and make other overall data center design decisions to make the technologies pay for themselves.

Additionally, one of the best “alternative” approaches to cooling is to use natural ventilation – think opening the windows. This “free cooling” approach has been used in some of the world’s greenest data centers, including those at Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.

With conservative Midwestern financial services companies and large, global technology companies adopting these approaches, maybe they will start to become the norm and not seem so alternative after all.

3. Recycle Equipment

Another important consideration in making IT greener is what to do with your equipment at its end of life. Most of the major IT equipment manufacturers have product take-back and recycling programs, with some vendors providing financial incentives for trading in equipment. Standards and certifications are also emerging to help you determine which recycling programs operate in a responsible manner as opposed to further contributing to the e-waste problem, such as EPA’s Responsible Recycling (R2) guidelines and the even more stringent Basel Action Network’s e-Steward Certification program. Ask your hardware vendors and recyclers if they comply with these standards and certifications. State level laws and regulations are also emerging that dictate what must be done in each state related to e-waste recycling; make sure you are aware of what is required in your state.

4. Use IT for Other Sustainability Initiatives

In addition to the ways IT can make operations more sustainable, IT can also be a significant part of your company’s other sustainability initiatives. For example, IT can provide the information systems needed to measure and track sustainability related activities, such as environmental impact reporting with sustainability scorecards, managing energy usage with energy intelligence systems and solutions to improve the sustainability of your supply chain.

Also, IT can help to reduce employee travel (and related expenses and environmental impact) by providing teleconferencing capabilities and enabling telecommuting of employees. Implementation of document management capabilities and doing simple things like changing default settings on printers, such as making two sided printing the standard, can also significantly reduce paper use (and related expenses and environmental impact).

IT can also help by implementing collaboration and social media technologies. Like document management and teleconferencing, these tools can enable telecommuting, but they can also help to engage employees in “solving the problem.” Most companies find that their front line employees will often have the best ideas on how to do something more efficiently (in terms of money and environment), because they are closest to the problems. Collaboration and social media technologies can be used to allow employees to share ideas on how to do something in a greener manner and collaboratively develop best practices that can be used by others. These tools help to engage employees in your company’s overall green initiative, thereby tapping into their energy and enthusiasm.

Get Started

Does your IT and business leadership have a strategy, plans and active initiatives for how to address some of these green IT concepts? If not, you are likely operating in an inefficient manner and therefore have opportunities to reduce your costs and environmental impacts significantly.

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