The ROI of green IT

There's no question that some companies pursue green solutions because it's the right thing to do. But plenty of them also do it for the cost savings. Thus, I'm continually surprised by the persistent assumption that being environmentally conscious and fiscally smart are at odds with one another. Talking about the state of the country's lagging economy, a guest on NPR recently suggested that the looming recessio

There's no question that some companies pursue green solutions because it's the right thing to do. But plenty of them also do it for the cost savings.

Thus, I'm continually surprised by the persistent assumption that being environmentally conscious and fiscally smart are at odds with one another.

Talking about the state of the country's lagging economy, a guest on NPR recently suggested that the looming recession should compel organizations to abandon green IT initiatives. He essentially dismissed green efforts as "feel-good" projects that don't do much to help an organization's bottom line in the short- or midterm.

Apparently, this fellow wasn't alone in missing the potential connection between adopting green-tech practices and reducing expenses: CIO Talk Radio hosted a roundtable discussion on Wednesday built around this astonishing (to me, anyway) premise: "Green IT initiatives are primarily to help improve the global environment rather than our balance sheets. While organizations may join the bandwagon for visibility, do they really care about it, given that there is not a significant tangible ROI on related investments?"

The fact of the matter is, many -- not all, but many -- green-technology investments positively affect the bottom lines of the companies that make them. After all, the very purpose of such projects is to reduce energy consumption and other costly waste at an organization. These steps then result in environmentally friendly benefits, such as a smaller carbon footprint and fewer squandered natural resources.

Another plus: It's not hard to measure the financial benefits of green-technology investments. They offer predictable, measurable financial benefits. If, for example, you find you'll be able to unplug a third of your servers or reduce paper and ink usage by 40 percent, you can plug some numbers into Excel for a quick prediction of how much money you'll save.

Many datacenter operators foresee running out of space and power in their datacenters in the not-too-distant future. Pursuing a well-planned green-tech initiative today could serve not only to lower energy costs but to allow for future growth when the economic tide turns.

Still not sure if green means business? Peruse these examples of green-technology projects and investments that, in the right organization, will likely yield cost savings while delivering environmentally friendly benefits.

1. Desktop-power management

For every PC and monitor left on at your company 24/7, you're paying between $25 and $75 more per year on power bills. Yes, you may have reasons to keep those machines on, such as being sure they're properly backed up and patched after hours, but by investing in PC power management solutions from companies such as 1E, BigFix, Kace, or Verdiem, you can set policies to ensure that machines automatically power down when they're not in use and get woken up for patching, backup, and so forth.

So let's see: Multiply $50 per year times the number of machines throughout your organization. Compare that to the cost of the licenses for the software. The ROI there shouldn't be too tough to calculate. (For the city of Boston, as an example, it paid for itself in a year.) The environmental benefits are pretty obvious: Less power waste means fewer carbon emissions.

2. Server virtualization

A server virtualization project can be complex. It also might not suit the needs of your organization. Caveats aside, it has the potential to bring significant green benefits to your organization.

Numerous companies have large server rooms or datacenters filled with pricey servers, many of which spend the majority of their days mostly unused yet nonetheless drawing power from the wall and adding heat to the environment.

The idea behind server virtualization is to move the workloads from underutilized servers and consolidate on far fewer machines. I've seen case studies of successful server virtualization projects through which organizations have managed to transfer the work of 1,000 servers down to 270, or 260 machines onto 11.

Considering the costs of not only powering servers but also cooling them, this kind of effort can result in big savings on your power bills. It can also save money on future hardware investments -- and spare the environment the greenhouse gas emissions that would have gone into running and chilling those extra machines.

3. Thin provisioning

Thin provisioning is a storage strategy touted by Hitachi Data Systems, HP, and other vendors. The premise behind the technology is pretty straightforward: It lets IT admins view all of their storage hardware as a great big pool and divvy up slices as needed, rather than allocating separate arrays for different business units that might not be taking full advantage of the pricey hardware you've set aside for them.

The result, if all goes well: You can purchase just enough storage machinery to meet your organization's collective needs, which means you're paying less money for arrays running at 20 percent utilization while you pay for 100 percent of their drives to spin. Once again, you get a cost savings and an environmental benefit. (Notably, thin provisioning isn't the only storage strategy that can result in cost savings and eco-friendly benefits.)

4. Document-technology systems and print management

Research finds that the average employee wastes $85 worth of printer paper and ink each year through unnecessary printing. Those numbers can build up fast if your organization prints more than the average number of contracts, legal briefs, marketing materials, manuals, spreadsheets, and the like. Add to that the cost of powering and maintaining various document-printing machines, including copiers, printers, and faxes.

A green-tech investment in print-management software from companies such as Equitrac can help you reduce paper waste and ink waste -- and save you a substantial sum of money in the process. Equitrac's wares let admins set up policies that prevent users from, say, printing Web pages in costlier color ink, or defaults certain types of documents to two-sided printing instead of one. It also ensures that a machine doesn't print a document until a user is actually at said machine to collect it. The result: You save money on paper and ink -- plus preserve some trees and other natural resources.

Meanwhile, Xerox points to both the cost and environmental benefits of multifunction devices over single-function models. The idea is, if you unplug several old, power-draining copiers, printers, and faxes and trade them in for fewer MFDs, you reap cash and carbon savings. (As I noted earlier this week, Xerox has developed a Sustainability Calculator to measure the potential environmental impact of moving to fewer, more energy-efficient machines, as well as going from single- to double-sided prints -- but those also translate to monetary savings.)

5. Refurbished machines

Even during tough economic periods, you may need to replace or add new hardware, such as PCs, servers, routers, or storage devices. Satisfying as that new hardware smell may be, refurbished systems can be a great alternative. Unless your organization really and truly needs a top-of-the-line desktop or server, it's entirely possible that a machine from, say, a year or two ago will suit your requirements splendidly.

Of course, you're rightly worried about buying a lemon, same as you'd be if you went down to Crazy Cowboy Bob's Used Car Corral to buy a new sedan. But there are reputable vendors out there -- including third-party sellers as well as the original manufacturers of the products. As you shop, just make sure the machines are pretested and come with acceptable warranties.

As for the ROI on this green-tech investment -- well, you'll save a tidy sum of dough buying used. Environmentally speaking, you spare Mother Nature the waste that goes into building and transporting new machines.

These are only a few of the green-technology projects that, at the right organization, could deliver an impressive ROI, both in terms of cash savings and environmental benefits. If your company is among those facing tough choices due to the frosty economic climate, don't be too quick to dismiss any proposal with the word "green" attached.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.