15 Sep Is green IT like the emperor with no clothes?
Forrester research analyst Doug Washburn is a proponent of green IT, but a serious one who believes that green IT has as much to do with saving money as it does with saving Mother Earth.
Washburn and four co-authors have issued a sober report with a provocative title, “Is Green IT Your Emperor With No Clothes?” The thrust of the report is that technology managers should forget the hype and be prepared to deliver real return on investment.
“You need to have a solid business case backing up any sort of investment dollars or investment in your time,” Washburn said. “In order to not be the emperor with no clothes, which means basically claiming the benefits and then never really tracking or recording them, start by measuring the benefits of green IT up front and then let that guide the investments you make.”
Washburn does not believe that technology, itself, is green, citing the toxic materials contained within IT equipment. Given how computer equipment is designed, manufactured, operated, and disposed of, there is a tremendous environmental impact. There are solid environmental benefits to going green, but there also are business benefits to improving environmental behaviors, he asserts.
Green IT baseline
Without the ability to measure energy consumption over time, the business case for going green will be flimsy at best. Washburn and his colleagues recommend establishing a green IT baseline that measures annual energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, and the financial costs of operating IT assets (inside and outside the data center); later, the baseline can be compared to new energy consumption to highlight any environmental and economic savings. Measuring is important to guide your green efforts because it will help set realistic goals, accurately measure real value in environment and economic terms, and help meet new and existing environmental regulations.
Once an organization measures, and measures accurately, Washburn said its most eco-taxing and perhaps it’s most economically taxing assets can be identified. In most cases, Washburn finds that the data center gets the green IT spotlight, particularly the server environment. However, it would be a mistake to automatically assume the data center is the biggest cost center. Hence, the need to measure.
As Washburn spoke to a large health insurer that has aggressively pursued green IT, he learned that it did the necessary measurements and found that storage consumed about as much energy as the server environment. If that’s the case, he said the organization should consider both server virtualization and storage solutions.
Unless a green IT baseline is established, it’s impossible to determine the precise value of a green initiative; if savings can’t be quantified, it will be difficult to demonstrate green benefits to upper management.
“When you measure, it helps you make smarter green IT investment decisions, which can lead to stronger ROI,” Washburn said.
When calculating the green IT baseline, the most important consideration is accuracy, which Washburn deems critical. CIOs should not oversell or undersell their green initiatives, or they run the risk of getting caught in the “emperor has no clothes” scenario.
“In that scenario, I can see someone potentially saying, `We can save X-hundreds of thousands of dollars, or maybe even millions of dollars a year in electricity costs just by doing the nameplate estimations that vendors have given us on their servers or storage gear,’” Washburn said. “In reality, that’s not how much electricity you’re consuming.”
Washburn recommends measuring true energy consumption of various IT assets by using tools like hand-clamp meters, air-flow meters, and kilowatt devices.
It’s also worthwhile to “right size” your green IT baseline because businesses typically need more IT services over time, and they increase the load in the data center, Washburn said.
Washburn co-authored the report with fellow Forrester analyst Robert Whiteley, plus Rachel A. Dines, Christian Kane, and Ben Echols.
He mentioned the possibility of legislation to regulate energy consumption in data centers, not necessarily in the United States but in Europe, Asia, and Australia. For any company with global operations, there may be more stringent regulations on electricity consumption and carbon emissions related to data center operations.
“Depending on your business, your data center could essentially be viewed as a factory,” Washburn said, “and if you’re not a manufacturing organization but a service organization, maybe all the IT consumption that is drawing electricity might be something that your organization really needs to keep an eye on.”
Staying on top of every potential factor, combined with the ability to measure, plan, and produce results with green IT, can significantly enhance the stature of an IT department in any business organization. Higher stature, however, probably is dependent on organizational culture, Washburn said.
That’s because one motivation for green IT is the simple sake of being green. In some organizations with a large corporate responsibility initiative, IT is asked to come on board and drive the effort, Washburn said.
The flip side, even though the results might be exactly the same, occurs in organizations that do not have corporate social responsibility initiatives. This does not mean green IT is avoided, but it does mean that a more appropriate label, such as energy efficient IT, should be emphasized. So should another green angle – greenbacks and money savings, according to Washburn.
Another potential obstacle is budget ownership. In the case of electricity consumption, Forrester says only 11 percent of IT shops are responsible for their electric bills. The 89 percent that are not paying the electric bill probably don’t know how much energy they consume, and a facilities group usually picks up the bill.
‘With that in mind, if you’re going to be making more investments in energy efficient equipment, and if IT is not paying the electric bill, you’re paying in some cases a higher upfront sticker price for an energy efficient server or PC or power supply,” Washburn said. “The facilities group is reaping all the benefit through lower energy use.
“IT has to realize that it won’t necessarily get the cost savings benefit of that. Someone else will, and you need to make sure that’s okay. If you don’t get the savings, at least it’s known that the IT department was the driver.”