7 green technologies poised for success

Forrester picks seven green IT 1.0 offerings that will flourish -- and one whose future is less bright

Companies seeking to embrace greener practices have a seemingly endless list of technologies from which to choose, from server virtualization to telepresence to EPEAT Gold-rated desktop computers to business intelligence software for streamlining the supply chain. One question well worth exploring is which green technologies are poised to thrive over the long term and deliver the most value to organizations.

In a recent report titled "TechRadar I&O for Professionals: Green IT 1.0 Technologies, Q2 2009," Forrester analyst Doug Washburn addresses the very question. Based on interviews with various industry experts, he discusses the potential short- and long-term success of more than a dozen "green IT 1.0" technologies.

[ Learn the green-tech secrets of this year's InfoWorld Green 15 winners. | Keep abreast of green IT news and tips by subscribing to InfoWorld's free weekly Green Tech newsletter. ]

Washburn delineates two approaches to green IT: "For green IT 1.0, organizations seek to reduce the environmental impacts related to the IT asset life cycle, such as toxic chemicals used in the design and manufacture of IT, energy-related carbon emissions from operating IT equipment, and electronic landfill waste from disposing of IT equipment. For green IT 2.0, technology is applied to reduce the environmental impacts deriving from broader business activities, such as energy-related carbon emissions from retail store lighting, fuel-related carbon emissions from truck fleets, or materials waste from product manufacturing." To narrow the scope of the report, Washburn focused only on green IT 1.0 offerings.

The following is a list of seven green IT products and services that Washburn identified as having potential for "significant success" -- and one that will enjoy only minimal success.

Green tech No. 1: Cloud computing services
Not everyone agrees on a definition for cloud computing. Some people define it as an updated version of utility computing, essentially virtual servers available over the Internet. Others argue that anything you can consume outside the firewall is "in the cloud," including conventional outsourcing.

[ Find out what cloud computing really means. ]

However you choose to define it, the green appeal is evident. Rather than investing in the installation, powering, and cooling of IT infrastructure for processing, storage, or what have you, you pay a third party to provide the computing services you require. You can pay to use more or fewer resources as your needs change over time -- and you can make those changes quickly without having to pay for new gear.

The green benefit, Washburn explains, is that you have fewer associated carbon emissions, as your cloud service provider is powering and cooling the IT gear, plus you have less e-waste to dispose of. It's not as though all carbon emissions and e-waste associated with your IT services disappears entirely just because another organization is providing them. However, given the shared resources of the cloud computing model, it's conceivable that cloud computing providers can delivers services more efficiently to customers (using less electricity and fewer machines overall) than would be necessary if customers run their services in house.

That's not a guarantee, though, Washburn notes: "[T]o date, service-level agreements do not ensure cloud service providers are doing all they can to reduce environmental impacts or quantifying these environmental benefits for customers."

Beyond requiring assurances that cloud services are greener, organizations are hesitant to embrace cloud computing due to security and privacy concerns, as well as doubts that providers can deliver an acceptable level of service.

Green tech No. 2: Datacenter outsourcing and collocation
Speaking of shared resources, datacenter outsourcing and collocation is also poised for significant success as a green 1.0 service, Washburn says, with your paying a third party to own and operate your entire datacenter or to manage your IT infrastructure within a third-party datacenter facility.

Here, you enlist datacenter experts (hopefully) to manage your facilities and/or IT equipment, using their knowledge of the tricks of the trade to reduce environmentally unfriendly waste. Further, if your gear is housed in a shared facility, it means CRAC systems and other infrastructure are being shared. That, in turn, is more environmentally friendly than it would be for each customer to have their own datacenter facility with separate power-distribution and cooling equipment.

Moreover, by having a place to park their servers and storage equipment, companies can postpone or cancel plans to expand existing datacenters or build new ones, which can be taxing on the environment (not to mention time-consuming and costly), Washburn notes.

Though the collocation industry is mature, Washburn says, "its use as a green IT tactic is low since service providers struggle to offer service-level agreements that tie to reducing environmental impacts or reporting that quantifies their success in doing so."

In another barrier to wider adoption, datacenter outsourcing and collocation services also require complex and long-term contracts, Washburn says.

Green tech No. 3: IT energy measurement
There's an ongoing mantra associated with green technology: You can't manage what you can't measure. Thus, I'm not surprised to see IT energy measurement among Forrester's green-tech picks for significant success. "IT energy and environmental measurement technologies -- such as energy meters, sensors, thermostats, and computational fluid dynamics -- will help IT organizations develop their green IT baseline: an annual estimate of the energy consumption, carbon emissions, and dollar costs of operating IT," Washburn writes.

[ Find out why measuring energy consumption in the datacenter is easier said than done. ]

Indeed, a host of established vendors and upstarts have rolled out tools for measuring energy consumption of IT gear and associated equipment. HP, for example, has developed Dynamic Smart Cooling sensors to monitor the temperatures of individual server racks and adjust to meet their respective cooling needs. SynapSense has devised a solution that uses wireless sensors to gather various types of data on temperature, humidity, and energy consumption. Sentilla offers devices that measure electricity being consumed by individual servers. The list goes on.

Washburn identifies this technology as a mature one in which companies are already actively investing.

Green tech No. 4: PC power management software
PC power management software puts computers into a low-power mode when they're not being used, thus saving energy. Most, if not all, support Wake On-LAN technology, meaning computers can be roused from their slumber remotely for patching, backing up, and the like, then put back to sleep. More, if not all, are also capable of quantifying environmental and financial returns.

[ Learn more about the benefits of PC power management. ]

PC power management software also happens to be one of my personal favorite green technologies, simply because I view it as relatively nondisruptive (once you get the settings just right to match end-users' computing habits) with an easy-to-measure ROI. I'm glad to see Washburn has identified it as another green technology poised for significant success -- one that offers a high level of "business value-add" to boot. He predicts it will enjoy further adoption as vendor interest in the technology increases.

Green tech No. 5: Server virtualization
Over the past two years, server virtualization has shaped up to be one of the most widely used technologies among the InfoWorld Green 15 winners, including the U.S. Navy, Bryant University, Burt's Bees, and Cal State East Bay. It's a perfect example of a green technology, enabling organizations to get more processing power out of servers, thus reducing energy consumption, cooling requirements, and investments in new hardware. Further, it can allow companies to postpone costly, time-consuming, resource-intensive datacenter construction projects.

Given server virtualization's various merits, Forrester has pegged the technology as poised for significant success and one that offers a high business value-add. According to Forrester, server virtualization is already being used at 46 percent of enterprise organizations. Nearly 10 percent more are expected to adopt virtualization in the next 12 months. As companies become more comfortable with the technology -- which can be complex at first blush -- it will become ubiquitous within the next three years, Forrester predicts.

Green tech No. 6: Storage capacity optimization (SCO)
Storage waste abounds in the enterprise as end-users cling to old files they likely will never need. Meanwhile, according to the report, "storage environments are plagued with low utilization rates (around 40 percent) and highly redundant data (with deduplication ratios around 20 to 1)."

Thus, companies find themselves having to invest in more and more storage equipment, which means higher energy bills, leading to higher carbon emissions and more e-waste down the road.

A solution poised for significant success, according to Washburn, is storage capacity optimization (SCO) technology, such as thin provisioning and data deduplication. Thin provisioning increases storage utilization by only reserving storage when data is written; data deduplication solutions reclaim capacity by eliminating redundant data, he writes.

Overall, Washburn sees SCO technology as delivering a high business value-add in that it reduces costs, it's inexpensive or free, it's relatively easy to implement, and "it doesn't require buy-in from nonstorage stakeholders." He expects it to become a commonplace technology within the next five years.

Green tech No. 7: IT asset disposal and recycling services
There are plenty of good reasons to dispose of electronic waste in a careful, environmentally manner. For an Earth-friendly perspective, e-waste is the fastest-growing segment of global landfill waste, according to The Natural Resources Defense Council. IT equipment is also highly toxic, containing hazardous substances such as cadmium, lead, and mercury.

In addition to helping protect the planet, disposing of IT assets in a responsible manner can help prevent sensitive data left on the hard drive of a discarded machine from falling into the wrong hands. Finally, there are laws requiring the safe disposal of IT assets.

Properly recycling and disposing of e-waste can be complicated, however. For that reason, Forrester predicts that IT asset disposal and recycling services -- which are already quite mature -- will continue to enjoy success for years to come. "The landscape of highly reputable IT asset disposal and recycling service providers is mature, with a variety of hardware vendors like Dell, HP, and IBM, and specialists like Intechra, Redemtech, and TechTurn," Washburn writes. "These firms will properly recycle and dispose of end-of-life IT assets -- or even better, give these assets a second life by donating or reselling them -- in compliance with the complex web of environmental and data security and privacy regulations."

[ Pick up six tips for choosing an IT asset disposal partner. ]

Server power management
Among the 15 green-tech 1.0 technologies and services that Washburn discussed in the report, he deemed only one as poised for "minimal success": server power management. The concept behind server power management is similar to that of PC power management; it puts machines into a low-power mode when they're not being used.

Vendors such as VMWare, Cassatt, Microsoft, IBM, and others offer server power management products or features. However, they don't appear to be enjoying a high rate of adoption. One of the most likely reasons for this, Washburn explains: "Administrators perceive the potential risks of powering down servers to be too high to justify only minimal energy savings."

[ Learn more about the risks and rewards of server power management. ]

Overall, Forrester doesn't see a bright future for server power management, compared to technologies such as server virtualization. "The business value of this technology is limited since it likely will not expand beyond organizations with significant test and development labs with no 24-by-7 service-level commitments," Washburn concludes.

The Forrester report "TechRadar For I&O Professionals: Green IT 1.0 Technologies, Q2 2009" is available for $1,999. Forrester stresses that its TechRadar methodology comprises predictions "based on the best information available at a given point in time" and is updated regularly to address technology innovative, business demands, and so forth.

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