Keep green projects on course

CA's ecoSoftware equips organization with comprehensive tools to measure and manage green projects

Green initiatives can take any number of forms, from energy-saving server virtualization initiatives to travel-cutting telepresence implementations to Earth-friendly e-waste recycling projects. Similarly, the underlying goal (or goals) behind a given green project can vary from company to company. One organization might have its sights set on reducing its carbon footprint. Another might be fixated on slashing energy bills. Yet another might be working to develop products that meet particular legislation (such a ROHS) or standards (such as Energy Star).

There is, however, one common thread among all green initiatives: In order to determine whether you've achieved your goals, you need to measure progress -- be that in terms of reduced carbon emissions, kilowatt hours saved, tons of e-waste properly recycled, positive publicity received, increased employee morale from contributing to the greater good, and so forth. Without a means to measure progress, you have no way of knowing whether your green endeavors are bearing fruit.

[ Learn how the InfoWorld 2008 Green 15 winners achieved their various sustainability goals. | Keep abreast of green IT news and tips by subscribing to InfoWorld's free weekly Green Tech newsletter. ]

Therein lies the appeal of CA's released ecoSoftware line, comprising ecoMeter and ecoGovernance. The two complementary offerings (available separately) are designed to keep organizations focused on both the progress and purpose of their sustainability initiatives. The ecoMeter software is designed to gather a wealth data, in real time, from a wide array of sources: IT infrastructure, PDUs, backup generators, PCs, utilities -- even washing machines. Available as a software-as-a-service offering, ecoGovernance is aimed at helping organizations plan and track sustainability initiatives, all while ensuring said projects align with the organization's overall green objectives.

Having witnessed both products in action, I can appreciate the value that either, or both, can bring to the table. Getting one's hands around a sustainability-oriented project is no easy matter, but CA appears to have devised a potent pair of products that can help organizations keep an eye on the green prize.

Measuring at the source
ecoMeter's aim is to gather a wealth of data, in real time, from virtually any energy-consuming device. Devices include -- but are by no means limited to -- PDUs, UPSes, backup generators, branch circuits, CRAC units, building management systems, utilities, servers, and PCs. Data that can be extracted includes energy consumption, temperature, air flow, humidity, as well as fuel and water levels.

The system gathers all of this data primarily via SNMP. Just about any modern network-connected device should be capable of reporting that sort of data. For equipment that can't do so -- say, an older legacy system -- an organization would need to install an adapter. The product supports a range of legacy devices and proprietary protocols to accommodate a company's infrastructure requirements, CA says.

Once up and running, the system makes array data easily accessible in any number of configurations -- such as customizable charts and graphs, as well as geographical views -- via a graphical Web-based interface. A user might take a high-level view of an organization's energy consumption trends among far-flung facilities. The user could then drill down to a specific datacenter to see, for example, its current PUE (Power Utilization Effectiveness). You can even drill all the way down to the circuit level of a piece of datacenter hardware.

[ PUE can be a useful metric -- but don't put too much stock in it. Here's why. ]

Another interesting and potential useful function: ecoMeter provides unified views of energy use for all components serving a common application. Thus, an organization could determine the costs of running the sales department's CRM application or the IT department's test lab. That sort of data can be handy for budgeting and/or setting up departmental charge-backs for energy consumption.

This level of insight equips an organization with the power to make informed decisions about adjusting temperature, equipment types, facility layout, and much more. You could, for example, raise the temperature in a datacenter by a few degrees and monitor the impact on energy usage, as well as whether it results in hot spots. If you discover a positive outcome, based on concrete, measurable data, you can apply that change to other facilities.

In my tour of the product, CA reps guided me from a U.S. map, depicting several datacenter locations, from which we drilled down to an interior map that included icons for various pieces of equipment, of a particular facility. We were able to click on the facility's backup power generator icon, for example, and determine that it was operational -- and had an ample supply of fuel.

As you may have observed by now, ecoMeter isn't strictly about measuring power consumption to achieve traditional green objectives; it can also function as a datacenter monitoring tool. You can, for example, set up alerts when a piece of equipment exceeds a specific threshold or if the system recognizes unusual trends. For example, you might get an alert when a piece of equipment is functioning at a dangerously high temperature or if there's a sudden flux in energy consumption. It's all highly customizable.

ecoMeter's uses go beyond monitoring equipment traditionally associated with IT. One of CA's customers is a hotel chain seeking to reduce the costs and environmental impact of its laundry facilities. By hooking up adapters in select laundry rooms and running ecoMeter, the company was able to determine the best way to manage laundry more efficiently at all of its sites.

Staying on course
Suppose, one day, your CEO declares that your company needs to cut its carbon footprint by 20 percent over the next five years -- and the task of overseeing that initiative falls in your lap. The job might seem a bit daunting at first blush when you consider just how many sources contribute to your company's carbon footprint: computers, servers, lights, HVAC, manufacturing equipment, travel, and so forth. It's a long list. Your role is to identify those sources, measure your current carbon footprint, then devise ways to reduce it. You then need to continue measuring progress on an ongoing basis to ensure the company's on target to hit that 20 percent cut. That's a lot of balls to juggles. CA's ecoGovernance aims to make the task more manageable.

In many respects, ecoGovernance is a project-management solution with a sustainability tilt. It provides the tools to track activities that tie in to any number of overarching green-oriented objectives, providing both a big picture and a granular view of how various projects are helping or hindering progress.

Suppose your company is, in fact, determined to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 percent. The first step would be to gather all the data, such as energy and fuel consumption. That data can be added to the ecoGovernance system in three ways: First, it could be manually inputted. Second, it can be uploaded from spreadsheets, which some companies use for tracking energy consumption, travel, and the like. Finally, ecoGovernance is capable of interacting with existing systems that store the type of data you require.

Drawing on that data, ecoGovernance can determine your organization's total energy consumption -- broken down by source -- as well as associated carbon footprint. The system is designed to take into account factors such as where your various facilities are located. (Some utilities use cleaner sources of fuel than others, resulting in lower carbon emissions.)

All of this data can be presented in the form of charts and graphs, which you can slice and dice to your liking. Thus, you could track energy consumption and carbon-emission trends over time throughout your organizations or at a specific facility.

I should stress that I am using energy consumption and carbon emissions as an example. The system can be used to track just about anything, such as paper consumption, water consumption, waste, and costs.

Matching projects with goals
So looking back at the goal of cutting carbon emissions by 20 percent over five years, the next step would be to devise an action plan. ecoGovernance provides a means for people throughout an organization to propose projects to achieve a goal (or multiple goals). The appropriate decision makers can review the proposed projects and rate them by how closely they meet said goals.

For example, one company might find from its data-gathering that much of its carbon emissions come from its high-density datacenters. Thus, server virtualization/consolidation projects might earn a high rating for meshing with the overall goal of carbon-footprint reduction. Meanwhile, a second company might have a small datacenter -- but its employees might fly frequently, resulting in a large quantity of travel-related carbon emissions. In that case, the company might determine that a telepresence project would prove a more effective means of cutting emissions than would a consolidation project. The telepresence project might earn a rating of 18 for cutting carbon and a score of 5 for consolidation.

[ Learn how Procter and Gamble achieved green success through telepresence. ]

Projects needn't be as large in scope as those I've mentioned. They could include adjusting the temperature in a datacenter or office, or requiring employees to power down their systems at night.

Notably, a green project may very well have more than one goal. A company's main sustainability objective might be to cut carbon, but the organization might also have other objectives, such as reducing costs, garnering media and customer attention, boosting productivity, or bolstering employee morale. For each overall objective a company seeks to achieve, it would assign a rating to a proposed project in ecoGovernance.

Additionally, projects might have associated environmental risks. For example, a company might consider building a new state-of-the-art datacenter to cut carbon emissions, but it might conflict with overall objective to save money. A company might consider switching from desktop PCs to lower-power thin clients -- which could hinder the overall objective and reduce employee morale. These risks could also be factored in to the project's picture.

Once benefits and risks are estimated for each project, decision-makers can view all proposed projects at once and see which would best help achieve the organization's overall green goals. Projects and their associated tasks are assigned to the proper individuals and linked to appropriate data sources -- and information starts flowing in. From there, one can track the progress of the project on an ongoing basis. You can see what's been done, what's in progress, and who is responsible for which tasks. An array of reports are available for gauging progress from various perspectives.

One might find that certain projects aren't meeting overall objectives as well as one had expected and might make changes to the project -- and its ratings -- as necessary. Similarly, one might discover unforeseen risks, such as a project having more of an adverse environmental impact than expected. Alternatively, they might find a project is exceeding expectations in one way or another and adjust the rating accordingly. The company will have an accurate measurement of a project's overall impact once it's complete, data than can be applied to similar projects down the road.

Overall, I'm impressed with what I've seen of CA's ecoSoftware. Both provide a means of collecting valuable data for measuring the progress of various green projects, which is critical for realizing an organization's sustainability objectives. Other organizations offer similar tools. Microsoft, for example, announced earlier this year its Environmental Sustainability Dashboard for Dynamics AX, which enables companies to track energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and other green-oriented stats. Organizations such as Tideway and Nimsoft have tools for monitoring server utilization and performance. SynapSense employs wireless sensors to monitor and map datacenter health. Additionally, plenty of companies offer carbon calculators. However, CA's ecoSoftware appears to be one of the most comprehensive green-project assessment tools I've seen to date.

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