California launches green IT effort with smart IT

State government leverages automated discovery and a comprehensive asset database to assess energy consumption and associated emissions from 50,000 hardware devices

Sometimes, identifying an underutilized appliance is downright simple. That refrigerator in the garage, for example, whose sole contents is a six-pack of Billy Beer is an obvious candidate for unplugging; it's wasting electricity while providing no useful service.

Were it only that easy for a large organization to pinpoint the IT gear burning up watts while performing little to no work -- or even older machines that are working to the best of their ability but at a pitiful performance-per-watt rate.

Now, there are some approaches one might take to locate underused or unused IT gear. Green 15 winner GlaxoSmithKline, for example, recruited a large group of volunteers among its employees to successfully identify some six tons of IT equipment that could be reassigned or unplugged and recycled, thus saving the organization some $21,000 per year on electricity bills.

[ See the full list of this year's InfoWorld Green 15 award winners. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's free weekly Green Tech newsletter. ]

But a software company called BDNA offers an arguably more comprehensive and less labor-intensive approach to locating gear that doesn't hit the green mark: an agentless suite of applications that locate every piece of IT equipment on your network (PCs, servers, networking equipment, and so on) and tells you what software is running on each machine. With the recently released version 6.0, it also maps out interdependencies between IT assets -- for example, which server apps are drawing from which databases. Moreover, BDNA surveys a vast catalog of specs for various manufacturers' machines and software, providing such information as power consumption and heat production.

Automatic for the people
This sort of data can be an invaluable starting point for a sustainable IT initiative, a lesson learned by the CIO's office of the state of California. In just 40 work-hours, the state used the BDNA suite to collect information about 50,000 hardware devices and more than 2 million software licenses across three major departments: the Department of Corrections, the Employment Development Department, and the Department of Industrial Relations. The state then commissioned a report from Intel [PDF] titled "Optimizing the PC Segment of California's IT Infrastructure" that partially drew on that data to outline how the state could reduce power costs over four years by $44 million and associated carbon dioxide emissions by more than 205,000 tons.

[ Software from companies such as BDNA and Tideway can also help companies slay zombie servers. ]

At the heart of the recommended strategy is for California to move from desktop PCs and CRT monitors to laptop systems. "Upgrading from desktops to notebook PCs reduces energy consumption by more than 26 times," the report notes.

That, of course, is a general figure. The state has more accurate information about the power consumption of a portion of its machines, thanks to the data gathered by BDNA Insight and system-specific specs provided by the BDNA Catalog. Once the state completes a full survey of its entire IT infrastructure, the picture will become all the clearer.

"Historically, California has described its IT Infrastructure based on estimates and high-level statistics. These estimates have largely been derived from surveys and manual inventories (e.g. 254,000 employees, 225,000 computers, 9,500 servers, 100-plus e-mail systems)," the report says. "For California to fully implement infrastructure change, there must be a comprehensive and accurate inventory of its current fleet. A detailed inventory will establish an equipment baseline and provide information on all segments of the IT equipment infrastructure. Only with this data can California develop policies, set priorities, and move to a more mobile and efficient PC fleet," the report says.

Recommendations inside
Back to the laptops: The report also notes that portable PCs enable "work-anywhere flexibility," meaning that it opens the opportunity for state workers to telecommute. "If 10 percent of the state's employees do not commute daily, it is the equivalent of taking 500 cars off the road each year, which would remove an additional 6 million pounds of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere."

Other recommendations for California include establishing a policy-based power-management strategy -- that is, an approach to powering down machines when they aren't in use. This can reduce power consumption and carbon emissions per user by 40 percent, according to the report -- plus California utility companies PG&E and SMUD offer rebates to customers employing power management.

Yet another recommendation to the state is to extend the hardware refresh cycle from three years to four. Not only does that save money on investing and deploying new gear, but extending the life of hardware postpones its inevitable retirement, which has clear environmental benefits.

There's more to be found in Intel's recommendations, but the important point here is that the success of the state's green IT initiative relies on gaining a clear picture of where it's starting, as well as how it's progressing. The beauty of a solution such as BDNA's is you can use it to inventory your IT equipment on an ongoing basis and measure your progress, so as to assess whether you've achieved your goals. In California's case, if the state moves forward with the recommendations, it would be able to measure the collective power consumption and carbon emissions of its fleet of end-user hardware down the road and compare the figures to the original measurements.