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Friday, October 31, 2008

10 Ideas To Power Up Your Green IT Agenda

As IT teams scramble to figure out a green strategy, here are some ideas to fuel the brainstorming.

InformationWeek

By J. Nicholas Hoover September 20, 2008 12:01 AM (From the September 22, 2008 issue)

Green isn't just an emerging trend anymore. ... It's the kind of issue a CEO just might bring up with the CIO. That, along with energy costs punching holes in profits, makes this a fight the IT team can't sit out.

Green IT efforts must look past the data center. ... But companies have bigger ambitions than that. As IT teams try to do their part, here are 10 often overlooked aspects to consider about going green.

1. Look Beyond The Data Center


Too many PCs are left on too long, a problem that IT can combat with both technology changes and awareness campaigns. ... "There's a cool factor about it, and we want to take advantage of that now," says David Buckholtz, VP of enterprise architecture and planning at Sony (NYSE: SNE) Pictures Entertainment, which has been laying plans for a broad green IT effort.

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... Miami-Dade County Public Schools has cut the amount of time PCs are on by more than half, from 21 hours to 10.3 hours daily, estimating it will save about $2 million on energy annually by deploying active PC management from BigFix to centrally control power settings. ...

Companies choosing software as a service do it for the cost savings. But it also can be seen as a green investment. ... Microsoft's San Antonio data center ... has sensors measuring nearly all power consumption, uses internally developed power management software called Scry, has mass-scale virtualization, and recycles the water used in cooling. ...

Cutting travel is another way companies are going green. Monsanto CIO Mark Showers notes the company's telecommuting and work-from-home programs have grown in popularity over the past year as gas prices have risen. ...

2. Culture Is The Biggest Barrier To Green


... "It can be in some ways a politically charged endeavor," says Rich Siedzik, Bryant University's director of computer and telecom services. At Bryant, employees worried that the efficiency gains would lead to job cuts. Yet culture can work for the good... With the successful rollout of its new data center, Bryant is now discussing broader green initiatives, such as buying electric vehicles for maintenance staff.

... Though companies often set default PC power management settings, Living Life Green says that 70% of employees will turn the settings off. PC power management software from BigFix, Living Life Green, Verdiem, and others can lock settings in and automatically power up just before employees get to their desks in the morning.

Or, with a major awareness campaign, companies might be able to get some of those gains without a technology change. Coca-Cola has done simple things like encouraging employees to print on both sides of paper and cut duplicate printing as a way to push employees to be more green. Sony Pictures ... [is] starting a campaign to get people to turn off their screens if they're going to be away. That will piggyback on a larger company effort to turn off the lights. The IT team will start by working with the most influential PC users: administrative assistants. ...

3. Share The Data--And Perhaps The Pain


Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is trying is trying a new way to keep energy costs low: charging business units by the amount of power they use in the data center, rather than the space they take up on the floor. That's forcing developers writing in-house and SaaS apps to think about how much power their apps will use even as they code them.

... Developers are paying attention to which of two data query methods might save a watt of energy, and choosing that method even if it might make the process slower by a nanosecond or two. Business units are driving efficiency in the selection of the hardware they'd like to see and making the right choices in the amount of hard drives. ...

But that might not be the right fit for everyone, depending on whether the gains from doling out energy costs are big enough to merit line-of-business managers spending time on it. An interim step might be just sharing that information, publicizing any progress the companies' green efforts deliver.

4. Recycle More


... Forrester Research found earlier this year that 40% of companies have some sort of computer hardware recycling initiative in place. But that's not enough with millions of computers and cell phones reaching end of life every year...

Donation is a potential alternative or supplement to recycling. Health insurer Highmark donates PCs to nonprofits and churches and is working to do recycling also. Programs like Dell (Dell)'s Asset Recovery Services promise to overwrite or shred hard drives, remove labels, and confirm the data disposal complies with relevant regulations.

Cell phone recycling is worse. A Nokia (NYSE: NOK) study found only 3% of cell phones are recycled worldwide, and nearly half in that study didn't know recycling phones was possible. Yet, from Nokia to Hewlett-Packard to private companies like ReCellular, cell phone recycling programs are free or cheap.

5. Don't Forget To Measure ...


Bryant University built an energy-efficient data center. But Bryant's Siedzik says the university made one mistake: It didn't take good measurements of its energy use before it started down its green data center path. "We needed to get better data on where we were coming from to measure how successful we were once we arrived," he says.

Green Grid board member Roger Tipley, who works for HP (NYSE: HPQ), recommends companies measure total data center energy use every 15 minutes and monitor at the subsystem level as well to help companies develop baseline metrics and find trouble spots, taking measurements over the course of a year. ...

There are plenty of tools out there from companies such as Johnson Controls to measure power use by circuit or by device, as well as things like airflow. Bryant ... can cap the power that's fed to the system by strategically turning off individual CPUs.

6. But Don't Expect Perfect Data


IT leaders are finding that their green IT impact is going to be a hard number to nail down too precisely. ...

... Commonly used metrics praised by groups such as the Green Grid and used by Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and other companies include Power Usage Effectiveness and Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency, while others, like McKinsey's Corporate Average Data Efficiency, also have made appearances. ...

For most companies, the best benchmark will be the past, using that to set aggressive improvement goals. ...

7. Alternative Energy Isn't Cheap


... Alternative energy sources don't come cheap, and for many companies it won't be practical to locate data centers where wind or hydro power is widely accessible, and the payback is a long time coming from solar. Highmark is looking into solar for energy and propane rather than diesel for backup.

In some parts of the United States, companies can choose alternative energy; customers of Baltimore Gas & Electric in Maryland, for example, can choose to have their power generated by green sources if they pay a bit more. ...

Hosting company AISO.net has 120 solar panels on its California data center. Installation cost nearly $100,000, which has been paid back in energy savings over the past seven years, says CTO Phil Nail ...

8. Buddy Up To Facilities


IT typically consumes only about 10% of an organization's energy costs, says Living Life Green's Scott. So the biggest opportunity is for IT to help companies tackle that other 90%. To do that, IT needs to build a closer partnership with the facilities management team, to implement sensors and automated facilities management software that can go as far as monitoring and controlling everything from lights to air conditioning remotely.

Florida's Ave Maria University is doing just that. The school ... uses off-the-shelf hardware and software from Johnson Controls and Eaton to monitor and manage water, power, lights, and air conditioning throughout its campus. ...

For example, Brian Mehaffey, Ave Maria's VP of technology systems and engineering, found electric bills just for the school's church were running at as much as $22,000 a month, so he used the system to view the airflow, quality, temperature, humidity, and power use. He found the air conditioning systems were running at full blast to handle the church's maximum capacity, even though most of the time the church was empty. During downtime, Mehaffey and his team turned off systems one by one, watching in real time how temperature, humidity, air quality, and power use changed with each adjustment and turning the next system off if the environment inside the church found a comfortable equilibrium. Mehaffey now has the church running on monthly energy costs of only $5,000, while remaining comfortable. "Over a year, we're talking about $150,000 in savings in energy alone," he says.

9. Consider Water Use, Not Just Power


Cooling data centers takes a lot of water. ... Highmark collects rainwater off its roof and stores it underground in a 100,000-gallon tank for cooling IT systems. ...

10. Challenge Conventional Wisdom


IT teams need to be ready to do things differently to get more green.

Even hot aisle/cold aisle configurations and raised floors, long standby practices in the data center, are getting second looks. If racks are too short and air conditioning setups inefficient, hot aisle/cold aisle strategies save less than believed, says Bob Hunter, CEO of power-monitoring company TrendPoint. ...

Companies will struggle to balance green IT efforts with other business needs. Outsourcing firm HCL Technologies finds that storage and backup, two demands that seem only to go up for U.S. businesses, are the largest drains on power in IT, says Anubhav Saxena, associate VP for America. The more firewalls and intrusion-prevention and intrusion-detection systems companies run, the more power those systems use and the more power it takes to get data from one end of the network to the other. Yet no one's suggesting it's time to ease off those efforts.

But security's a good comparison for what IT must do to go green. Information security works best when it's considered at each step of a business initiative, not bolted on during implementation. For green IT to make an impact, it needs that same presence in the process.

-- with Chris Murphy

Photograph By Getty Images

10 Ideas To Power Up Your Green IT Agenda -- Green IT -- InformationWeek