Green IT spotlighted at Interop conference

Green IT spotlighted at Interop conference

Is green IT about saving money or social responsibility?

The topic was tackled during two conference sessions at this week's Interop New York trade show. The consensus was that it could be both -- but the real driver towards a green initiative is greenbacks.

"It's cyclical," said Paul Dunn, senior network analyst for Miami-Dade Public Schools, about the push for environmental responsibility. "In the mid-1980s and 90s, there was a green initiative that faded away for a while. The trend to save money is a no-brainer, even if the (ecological) trend goes away."

"It's about efficiency as much as it is about anything else," said Johna Till Johnson, president and senior founding partner of Nemertes Research, of the dual-pronged impetus for green initiatives.

The drivers are there: Most servers use 50% of their rated power even when idle, so they're using 50% of electricity but doing 5% work, Johnson said.

That means that for every 100 servers only five are in use. Turning off the other 95 would result in 47.5% efficiency, she said. In addition, for every productive dollar gained from servers, almost two dollars are wasted in UPS, AC/DC conversions and fans, Johnson said.

Even so, 80% of companies recently surveyed by Nemertes have no corporate green policies; only 13% knew data center energy costs; only 3% turn off their servers when not in use; and desktops are left on 50% of the time.

Just turning off servers and desktops when they are not in use can cut power bills for those devices by 40%, Johnson said.

That's what Miami-Dade Public Schools did. The school has 120,000 endpoints deployed over 370 sites and used to keep the computers on 24/7, 365 days a year for patch management, Dunn said.

Then Florida had a statewide budget crunch so school districts across the state had to find ways to save money. Turning the systems off has saved Miami-Dade US$4.2 million since last October, and reduced its carbon footprint by 50 million pounds, Dunn said.

Clearly, Miami-Dade's initiative began as a cost saving measure. But it did require the cooperation and support of the faculty and students at each school, Dunn said.

"We had to go to the CFO to get the project and funding approved," he said. "We were spending $8 million per year in electricity just to keep computers going. But the buy-in had to be from grass roots, the school sites. Their cooperation made it happen. Kids don't care about saving money but they do care about green initiatives."

Dunn said that cooperation will help the school district establish custom scheduling per site to try to save even more money from energy efficiency.

Johnson said green IT initiatives have to start like that -- with corporatewide policies or mandates to consolidate IT assets, encourage telecommuting and virtual work, establish sustainable supply chains and recycling.

Only then will enterprises reap the benefits of green technologies such as power management, modular HVAC, conferencing, renewable energy and virtualization, she said. Indeed, the green benefits of virtualization are so compelling -- increased utilization, which increases efficiency -- that Johnson called it the "broccoli of the IT world."

Still, Nemertes' research found that 63% of companies have no telework policies or programs that promote videoconferencing; 46% have no plans to implement social computing technologies, which could save travel time, cost and carbon emissions from customer visits; and 44% have no mobility strategy.

And this despite what Sun Microsystems found from its own internal studies, according to Johnson -- that eliminating commuting for its employees 2.5 days per week saves 5,400 kilowatt hours per year, per employee.

Johnson recommended that companies "get acquainted" with data center utility bills, track server and desktop on-time, consolidate resources, measure the impact of virtualization -- and adopt a green policy.

Dunn said that policy starts with someone dedicated and passionate about implementing a green IT program to both save money and energy, as well as a sympathetic ear.

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