Four reasons to cultivate greener IT

Marrying eco-conscientiousness with business IT practices can save both money and the environment

I recently moved from a small apartment in Oakland to a new house in Sacramento. The cat and I are adjusting quite well, thank you, though for about one month, I was without a kitchen. Or a water heater. Or downstairs flooring. It may not have been the best-laid renovation plan.

I do have new kitchen appliances, which spent quite some time looming largely and uselessly off to the side of the future kitchen. They're very shiny, which is nice, and they're Energy Star certified, of course

I say "Of course," because in this day and age, Energy Starred fridges and stoves and the like are incredibly easy to come by. Plus, they come with little tags that tell you how much you'll save in energy bills per year. Oh, and the local utility will give me money for buying them. So how could I go wrong investing in a green kitchen?

Alas, for IT, it's not nearly so easy being green. Swapping out a fridge isn't as quick, straight-forward, or nondisruptive as swapping out a server rack or farm. Determining the potential long-term savings for a bunch of new laptops isn't as simple of figuring out how much you'll save with a new stove (it's right there on the tag). Deciding where to place the dishwasher is pretty much a no-brainer whereas figuring out how to set up your server racks to maximize energy efficiency can be exceedingly complex.

In fact, it's likely that you, or whoever runs your business, has seemingly more important things on the brain than developing a strategy for a greener, more energy-efficient operation: boosting sales; keeping the network secure and running; and figuring out who's been stealing Hot Pockets from the Energy Star fridge in the break room. Perhaps you’re not sure where to begin. Or perhaps you're not even convinced that going green -- or greener -- is a worthwhile endeavor, or something you can really afford.

Well, let's explore the question -- or rather some answers to the question -- of why going green should matter to you in the first place.

1. Going green really can save you money. For many organizations, that benefit may well be the foremost argument for adopting more eco-friendly practices. Less energy consumption means lower bills -- and here’s the kicker: You're likely burning (or cooling) away thousands of dollars each year paying for energy that's really not contributing to your bottom line.

One of the biggest culprits: cooling costs for the datacenter. In fact, by 2010 IDC predicts that companies will be spending an additional 70 cents per dollar invested in a new server. That's up from 50 cents on the dollar in 2005 and 21 cents per buck in 2000. You'll certainly want to prepare as those costs creep up.

It doesn't end there: Waste abounds at organizations, and research has found that companies that work to reduce their environmental impact tend to perform better than their counterparts.

Fortunately, there are cost-saving strategies out there. Among them is re-thinking the kind of equipment you can buy (more energy-efficient hardware and standards are coming out all the time), the technologies you employ, such as virtualization and thin clients, and even the way you lay out your datacenter.

2. Going green will help reduce the impact of the imminent energy crisis. Yes, I know: Crisis is often one of those words that media types throw around to cause panic and sell magazines or newspapers or drive Web site traffic. Nevertheless, based on the research I've seen, crisis is an apt word.

Right now, energy supply looks to be struggling to keep up with demand. A recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concludes that, thanks to the industry shift to low-end servers, global power consumption has doubled since 2000 to more than 123 million kw/hours. Power demands are expected to increase by 40 percent come 2010 -- and that's assuming that per-server power consumption remains at 2005 rates.

Or consider what Gartner proclaimed at the end of 2006: Half of datacenters will run out of power by 2008. As explained by Timothy Morgan at ITJungle:

"Gartner did not, by the way, literally mean that datacenters would go dark in two years after blowing some fuses or melting under their own heat. What Gartner did say was that by the end of 2008, 50 percent of the datacenters in the world would not have enough power to meet the power and cooling requirements of the high-density computing gear that vendors are increasingly peddling."

Although this prediction doesn't mean it's time to get hysterical, or start training an army of hamsters to power your server farm, it should certainly be a compelling reason to start looking at ways to conserve energy.

Want more information? Check out this Webcast from The Uptime Institute about "The Invisible Crisis in the Data Center." (Registration is required for viewing.)

3. Going green is good PR. Both environmentally- and economically-conscious people like a good news article about the ways companies are leveraging green technology, be it simply investing in more energy-efficient gear, or putting solar panels on top of their datacenters. That kind of positive publicity is good advertising, which also can offset some of the cost of investing in green IT. (These kinds of case studies can also provide useful guides for other companies looking for ways to cut energy costs.)

4. Going green is good for the environment. Ah yes, the environment. Trees. Oceans. Fresh air. Turtles. I'm personally in favor of all of those things (even those vicious snapping turtles that would bite off a toe without a second thought). And IT commerce in general has a huge impact on the environment, such as landfills piled up with improperly discarded computers and servers, wasted printer paper, as well carbon dioxides contributing to global warming.

Yes, I do realize that some people remain skeptical as to whether or not global warming is real and a concern. (Some people also remain skeptical whether the Earth is flat and whether it revolves around the Sun.)

Too flippant? Perhaps. Let's just say that even the previously skeptical political leaders of the world are acknowledging that global warming warrants consideration, and that it requires reducing the carbon dioxides and toxins we spew into environment (and later inhale).

And even if you disagree with those who proclaim global warming a concern, you'd best prepare for forthcoming regulations on reducing energy waste -- or risk legal headaches. Yes, there may be a significant up-front cost required to switch to leaner, greener machines -- but there are also incentives out there (federal and local) to help you get the job done.

So there you have it: four simple reasons to consider embracing green IT at your organization. Be sure to check in regularly at my Sustainable IT blog for the latest news and analyses about green IT.

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