Green IT projects struggle for green light

IT admins charged with cutting energy costs find it easier to buy greener gear than to get high-ROI green initiatives approved

If you're an IT professional, there's a good chance you've been charged by the powers on high to cut energy costs at your organization -- without much in the way of incentive, guidance, budget, or other support. Fortunately, the green IT movement has been around long enough that you can learn from your brethren's experiences regarding not only which green-tech initiatives have the highest return but are the easiest to get approved and be deployed.

As it turns out, the two groups don't always intersect, according to the results in CDW's "2012 Energy Efficiency IT Report," based on a survey of 760 IT professionals. Virtualization, server consolidation, new cooling approaches, and hosted services are among the projects that yield the highest immediate and long-term savings, according to respondents. However, projects that are easiest to get green-lit and rolled out include migrating to more energy-efficient hardware.

In fact, implementing Energy Star-qualifying equipment stands out as the most popular of the low-hanging green fruit, implemented by 44 percent of the surveyed organizations. Of all the green-technology projects examined, it was ranked easiest to get approved and to implement; plus, it delivers an obvious ROI. That's not a big surprise; PCs, monitors, and other IT equipment need to be replaced regularly at organizations, and hardware makers have increasingly rolled out Energy-Star qualifying hardware for years. Getting approval for an Energy Star-qualifying machine is pretty much akin to requesting a replacement machine -- and realizing at least some of those energy-saving benefits starts the moment you plug in the system. Take some time to tinker with settings and deploy power-management, and you can expect even greater potential ROI.

Server consolidation and virtualization also ranked high among already deployed green-tech projects: 65 percent of respondents said they've gone the virtualization route, and another 60 percent have consolidated machines. They've delivered considerable cost savings, too. The real stumbling blocks appear to be the technical challenges; only "Employing new cooling approaches" and "Increasing use of hosted services" earned lower ease-of-deployment scores.

In fact, only 23 percent said they've employed new cooling approaches to reduce energy costs, though the practice ranks high among respondents who've embraced it. The problem might be that organizations as a whole and IT departments specifically are daunted by the thought of messing with the cooling systems in their server rooms and data centers. Respondents gave "Employing new cooling approaches" an average score of 4.4 for ease of technical implementation (on a scale of 1 to 10) and 5.0 for ease of getting management approval, the lowest marks in the survey.

Similarly, only 17 percent of respondents said their organizations were increasing use of hosted services to reduce energy consumption, whereas respondents from business, nonprofit, and federal government organizations ranked it among the top three most likely strategies for cutting costs. As with deploying new cooling methods, enlisting hosted services earned low scores for ease of approval and implementation.

On a related note, cloud computing has clearly emerged as a viable approach for cutting energy costs, according to the survey: 62 percent of respondents agreed that cloud computing is an energy-efficient approach to data center consolidation, up from 47 percent in 2010.

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