Dell must help customers realize they do care about green

Company execs need to better explain the link between "green" and "efficiency and cost savings"

I had a seemingly otherworldly experience last week at a briefing from a couple of Dell execs about the company's newly released Advanced Infrastructure Management package, a suite for managing physical and virtual application workloads in the datacenter. As a devotee to my sustainable/green-tech beat, I pressed the gentlemen (Paul Prince, large enterprise CTO and Praveen Asthana, vice president of enterprise storage and networking) on the green benefits of the product.

Rather than embracing the opportunity, the reps of what aspires to be the world's greenest technology company told me, essentially, that the only green feature they could think of was a power management tool -- but didn't have any specifics to share. More surprising to me, they said that customers they talk to aren't really concerned about greening their datacenters. Almost as an afterthought to my line of green-oriented questions, the execs assured me that Dell itself does care about green and is taking steps to make its products and operations greener. But again, they said green wasn't a concern for their customers.

[ Learn about the winners of InfoWorld's 2008 and 2009 Green 15 awards, 30 companies that are concerned about green. | Find out how RagingWire employs green practices to keep prices down and power consumption in check. ]

What, then, are datacenter operators concerned about, according to Dell? Boosting efficiency and cutting costs, which AIM is designed to do. Basically, it gives admins a means of dynamically allocating and reallocating storage, compute, and network resources to meet the demands of current workloads on a more-or-less real-time basis. This approach would, for example, allow an admin to spread workloads in such a way that underutilized servers kick in when demand hits a certain level. Also, per Dell, it helps reduce the number of failover servers a company requires.

Indeed, this type of solution does appear to lend itself well to what Dell says customers care about: boosting efficiency and cutting costs. After all, it provides datacenter operators with a single console to wring as much use as they can from their existing datacenter equipment, an elegant alternative to throwing hardware at the problem of meeting increasing service demands and reining in the data explosion. Meanwhile, organizations can save money from buying fewer machines, as well as spending less on electricity to power and cool their datacenters.

Those power and cooling costs are by no means trivial, either. Datacenter operators throughout the country have had to cope with the skyrocketing costs of powering and cooling servers (powering and cooling a single midrange server costs upward of $1,870 per year), as well as the limited supply of power from their utility providers. These realities have forced plenty of companies to come up with ways to reduce power consumption in the name of saving money -- both in terms of energy and hardware bills, as well as the expense of expanding their existing datacenter or building an entirely new one.

Perhaps now you can imagine my surprise in hearing the Dell execs tell me that customers aren't concerned with green: Datacenter operators want to cut costs. Energy waste is a huge ongoing (and rising) expense in the datacenter. The green-tech movement is very much geared toward reducing energy consumption. Sure, the term "green" tends to refer to the environmental benefits of cutting power usage (which is why I tend to prefer "sustainable"), but I believe it's up to companies like Dell to better connect the dots between green and energy conservation.

Moreover, datacenter operators want to get more from their existing hardware (that is, make more efficient use of their resources), which lowers energy costs, reduces the complexity of hardware glut, saves on floor space, and slows investments in more IT gear. That sort of conservation also smacks of green to me -- again, whether it's in the name of the planet or the bottom line. Once again, companies like Dell would be well served illustrating the connection.

One more thing: With the threat of the feds cracking down on greenhouse gas emissions, at least some datacenter operators are preparing for carbon regulations, which certainly falls under the umbrella of "be concerned about green." I wouldn't be surprised if lots of companies out there haven't been paying attention to what's happening in Copenhagen or in D.C., despite the fact that we're seeing clear signs that carbon regs are on the horizon and will have companies scrambling to reduce energy consumption, both to shrink their carbon footprints and to reduce the sting of potentially higher energy prices.

Given that Dell aspires to be the greenest tech company on the planet and that it is grooming products to be more environmentally friendly, it presumably grasps the various benefits of green. Given that Dell's customers do (or should) care about cutting costs, boosting efficiency, and preparing for carbon regs, I can only hope the company's reps do a better job explaining that green-tech implementations such as AIM can help achieve those aforementioned objectives.

Yes, there's a risk of turning off customers by overhyping the benefits of green, but I firmly believe that the benefits of green are clear and measurable in terms of money and GHG emissions. Dell has an opportunity here to educate customers and advance its own green objectives by illustrating the very clear connections between "green," "cost savings," and "efficiency," and helping datacenter operators understand that they should, indeed, be concerned with green.

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