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Five Green IT Stories to Watch in 2009

Doug Washburn identifies five trends that IT managers can't afford to ignore in the New Year.

Rising energy prices, heightened awareness for corporate environmental responsibility, and pending greenhouse gas regulation will continue to drive the greening of IT into 2009. And coupled with a challenging economic environment, IT will be challenged to do even more with less. To lead us into the New Year, I’ve hand picked five stories that all IT managers should keep in mind to help generate environmental and financial benefits from green IT initiatives:

Energy Efficiency Is the First Step in Green IT

The story: Organizations can take a top-down and bottoms-up approach to prioritizing their green IT investments. My advice is to focus initial green IT efforts on reducing IT's energy consumption since it offers tangible environmental (reduced CO2) and economic (reduced costs) benefits. But before reconfiguring your IT environment or spending money on new energy-efficient equipment, quantify IT's portion of the energy bill.

Why it’s important: The old adage that "you can't manage what you can't measure" is particularly relevant to green IT. Why? You will not be able to accurately quantify, and then report to senior management, the environmental and economic benefits of any green IT initiative without establishing a baseline on which to track improvement.

Turning "IT" Off

The story: Simply switching off idle IT equipment can be a surefire way to go green and save green. For example, the EPA estimates that the typical 1,000-PC environment can save $40,000 annually by using existing power management features. While the financial and environmental benefits seem compelling, recent findings reveal that most IT managers are afraid of turning out the lights on idle servers and PCs. Reasons cited vary from old habits, to bad experiences, to service-level agreements, to unclear ROI and budget control.

Why it’s important: In a challenging economy, IT managers should overcome old habits and revise service-level agreements to help their organizations cut costs – and powering down IT assets within and outside of the data center can yield significant savings. While a “baby-steps” approach to power management – such as targeting low-maintenance PC users or non-critical test and development servers – might not offer the instant gratification of immediate results, it should set you up for long-term success and broad adoption.

Is the Green Datacenter the Next- Generation Datacenter?

The story: It's clear that the next generation datacenter will be an energy efficient datacenter. Why? Reduced energy consumption in the datacenter offers tangible and immediate environmental and economic savings. But other green features should also be considered, such as reduced water usage or sustainable site planning. And a handful of best practices – from aligning incentives to upfront measurement – should be employed to encourage this transition.

Why it’s important: The greenest datacenter is the one that already exists. With that in mind, don't wait to incorporate green features into your datacenter today. For example, if your goal is to reduce energy consumption, simple steps from raising the temperate in your cold aisles and installing blocking plates improve air flow, to energy efficient power supplies, and improving utilization with virtualization can be done today with minimal to no investment.

Green IT: Beyond the Datacenter

The story: The Climate Group estimates that, in 2007, PCs and related peripherals consumed close to three times more energy and related CO2 emissions than datacenters did. By installing 1E s NightWatchman PC power management software on over 300,000, AT&T expects to save more than 135m kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity and upward of 100,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year simply by powering down the PCs during non-work hours. According to my rough calculation this translates to a whopping $12.8m per year or $42.75 per PC per year.

Why it’s important: While the data center is often a first target on an organizations' green IT hit list, do not forget about the distributed PC environment since the potential for environmental and financial savings might actually be more significant than in your data center.

What Happened to the "Green" in Green IT?

The story: In a number of recent client interactions with both enterprise IT end users and vendors, the question of "Is the "green" in green IT dead?" has come up. First and foremost, technology is not green and never will be. And second, the ecological benefits of green IT take a backseat to the business benefits namely cost reduction. While corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability is on the rise, these practices are being employed to ultimately achieve an economic goal. And a green strategy can be an effective means to this financial end.

Why it’s important: Because corporate IT operates within the realm of the corporation, financial obligations come first – don’t treat green IT any differently. Especially in a challenging economic environment, your business case justification for green IT investments must be sound. With that in mind, emphasize how a greener IT environment can help eliminate or reduce operating and capital expenses.


Doug Washburn is analyst at Forrester Research, where he advises clients on sustainable business and green IT practices and the role of technology in business. He also hosts SLM's Greener IT Update e-newsletter.

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