Companies ready to invest more in green IT

A worldwide survey conducted by Symantec reveals that most businesses view green tech as central to their environmental aspirations

A couple of years ago, the whole green-tech trend might have been dismissed as a passing fad. "Sure, the environment is important," some CXOs no doubt said, "but I need to cut costs, not increase them with feel-good projects." That tide has turned steadily, though, and more companies are coming to realize that green tech isn't just important to their overall green aspirations; it's essential -- and a lot of companies are prepared to divert more dollars to green IT projects.

These are just some of the findings in a recent blind survey conducted by Symantec. The company hired a third party to interview decision makers at 1,052 companies worldwide to assess the pulse of the green-tech movement among businesses. That pulse is evidently strong. A full 92 percent of companies surveyed said that IT should play a very or extremely significant role in minimizing the company's overall environmental footprint. Further, 81 percent of companies surveyed have a green advocate in charge of coordinating all green activities; of those, most have an IT focus.

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Further illustrating the importance of green tech among organizations, a full 97 percent of the respondents said that they're at least talking about a green IT strategy; just 1 percent dismissed green tech as unimportant. Drilling down, 67 percent are in the discussion or trial stages, whereas 30 percent have already implemented a strategy.

Why green tech?
The drivers behind these green-tech projects likely aren't too surprising if you've been tracking the successes of such initiatives, such as those of this year's InfoWorld Green 15 winners: 92 percent of the respondents identified reducing energy consumption as the reason for green IT projects and 91 percent pinpointed the need to cut cooling costs. Still, 87 percent of the respondents also identified the desire to "reduce polluting energy" (which I interpret as "energy that results in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses"). It's a safe bet that U.S. companies are bracing for a carbon cap-and-trade program, which is driving that expressed desire to reduce polluting energy. In fact, 87 percent of the survey respondents said that government regulation to limit greenhouse gas emissions would be either an extremely important or a very important factor in their green-tech strategies.

Meanwhile, 86 percent identified a desire for their corporate headquarters to qualify as "green" (which is admittedly vague and subjective).

Show green the money!
Talk is cheap, of course. The real question is, are companies putting greenbacks behind their expressed green aspirations? Evidently, they are. Despite the tough economic climate, 72 percent of the companies surveyed said they intended to increase their green IT investments over the next 12 months. Of these, 35 percent are upping spending by 6 to 10 percent, and 15 percent will boost spending by more than 10 percent.

On top of that, organizations are prepared to fork over extra dough in exchange for greener goods -- or at least more energy-efficient ones. Sixty-four percent of companies said that they would pay at least another 10 percent for a more energy-efficient product of equivalent functionality. One-third would be willing to pay at least 20 percent more.

Unfortunately, the survey neglected to ask whether companies would pay more for products that were environmentally friendly in ways that did not deliver as obvious an ROI, such as items built with more recycled materials and fewer toxic materials.

[ Are green IT premiums worth the cost? ]

Green-tech projects come in all shapes, from datacenter virtualization projects to desktop power-management initiatives to cutting travel through videoconferencing and telepresence to leveraging technology and devising more fuel-efficient shipping routes. In this particular survey, many of the questions focused on what customers were doing in their datacenters to be greener.

Among the biggest winners was server virtualization: 42 percent of the companies said they're already using virtualization, whereas 32 percent said they were in the process of implementing it. Another 19 percent said they were discussing it. Also popular: server consolidation, a close cousin to virtualization; 38 percent of the companies said they've consolidated hardware, 28 percent are in the processing of consolidating, and 29 percent are discussing it.

[ Virtualization and consolidation are promising techniques for slaying zombie servers. ]

Additionally, 33 percent of the respondents said they've already replaced older equipment with more energy-efficient gear, while another 40 percent are in the process of making the upgrade. Twenty-three percent of the companies said they're discussing it.

Seventy-six percent of companies said they're using power-management tools to reduce electricity consumption by datacenter equipment operating at low utilization rates. I'd wager few are willing to risk powering down servers entirely when they're not in use, at least for the time being.

A little outside help
In one of the most interesting findings in the survey, 81 percent of the respondents said they were considering adopting SaaS (software as a service) and/or cloud computing services. Among those respondents, 55 percent said they were doing so as part of a strategy to reduce power consumption. This strategy certainly makes sense; having an outside service take care of certain processing or storage needs means you don't have to worry about powering the associated hardware. I'm eager to see hard data as to whether outside providers such as Salesforce.com or Amazon Web Services deliver higher performance-per-watt rates than companies would enjoy running those services in-house. (My intuition says yes.)

Also interesting: Companies are realizing the importance of monitoring energy consumption. Measuring on an ongoing basis is, after all, critical to the success of a green-tech initiative. If you don't know where you started, you have no way of knowing whether you've made any progress. Thirty-four percent of the respondents said they're "monitoring power consumption more carefully"; another 37 percent are implementing power monitoring. Twenty-two percent are talking about it.

[ Learn how to measure your green IT baseline. ]

All in all, the results of this survey should be heartening to both IT professionals and environmental enthusiasts (not that the two are mutually exclusive). The green movement sweeping businesses worldwide is poised to continue gaining momentum, driven by the need to cut costs, the requirement to comply with environmental legislation, and the desire for better environmental stewardship. Whatever the key drivers at any given organization, it's clear that IT has a critical role to play.

The Green IT Report results (PDF) are available at Symantec's Web site.

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