10 Ideas To Power Up Your Green IT Agenda

Technology Staff Editor
Posted by

Green is't just an emerging trend anymore. Companies such as Coca-Cola Enterprises, Ford, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and the U.S. Postal Service all have VPs of sustainability. 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. Yes, that's the right place to start, since virtualizing and consolidating servers can lower costs and also yield green benefits such as lower power use and not having to build a new 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. Regardless of the approach, now's the right time to push efforts that reach beyond the IT department, since employees are likely to be receptive to such changes. "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 Pictures Entertainment, which has been laying plans for a broad green IT effort. More companies are looking at active power management software. 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. Graeme Scott, CEO of power management software company Living Life Green, estimates that's typical--that PCs stay on more than double the amount of time they need to. Energy companies in the United Kingdom and in California even subsidize power management software in some cases. And Coca-Cola Enterprises is actively managing printer power settings. Companies choosing software as a service do it for the cost savings. But it also can be seen as a green investment. Companies such as Microsoft and Google are spending billions of dollars building new data centers, often directly near their power sources, and along the way investing heavily in new technology and processes to make them more energy efficient than most companies could run. Microsoft's San Antonio data center, for example, 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. SaaS is "one of the greenest things people could do," GreenM3 consultant and founder Dave Ohara says. 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. Harrah's Entertainment and Wachovia are among companies that have invested in telepresence, partly to cut travel costs. 2. Culture Is The Biggest Barrier To Green No one is opposed to saving the planet in concept, but going green can be full of resistance. "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, too, when something works. With the successful rollout of its new data center, Bryant is now discussing broader green initiatives, such as buying electric vehicles for maintenance staff. Companies need to take head-on the areas where people's "self-optimizing behavior" conflicts with green goals, says GreenM3's Ohara, who blogs at www.greenm3.com. "Security guys don't give a damn about energy efficiencies, but the way they run the firewall or whatever, that can be massively inefficient," he says. "Nobody ever talks about the trade-offs." 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 has long had a screen-saver setting on PCs, but it's 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. "We're going to target the admins for our on-the-ground support," Buckholtz says. 3. Share The Data--And Perhaps The Pain Microsoft 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. Microsoft's data center chargeback model is really about using carrots and sticks to force cultural change. 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. "You have to [encourage] the behaviors, that's really the bottom line," says Christian Belady, Microsoft's principal power and cooling architect. 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 E-cycling is getting more prevalent. 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--2.6 million tons of business and consumer e-waste in 2005, the last year for which the Environmental Protection Agency has data. Nonprofit environmental justice group Basel Action Network estimates 60% to 80% of e-waste is exported, often to emerging markets with lax regulations, so companies should know where recycled computers end up. U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, introduced a resolution to change federal policies allowing export of e-waste, since it's not deemed hazardous waste, but it hasn't gotten traction. 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'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 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, working with IBM, which points to it as state of the art in green. And it is. 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, 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. But even a simple survey of inventory, as Highmark did before building its new data center, can turn up unexpected problems. "Server guys would just hang on to dead servers just in case," says Mark Wood, Highmark's director of data center infrastructure. 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 uses IBM Tivoli Monitoring Power Management to be able to see things such as consumption by individual server, so that during low utilization periods it 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. "One of the difficult things is getting to the truth to what these efforts are worth," says Buckholtz, of Sony Pictures. Companies can collect a lot of data, it's just not always clear what to make of that data--are we green yet? Commonly used metrics praised by groups such as the Green Grid and used by Microsoft 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. The EPA in August started a research initiative collecting monthly energy-consumption information from about 240 data centers with the aim of possibly creating Energy Star specifications for energy-efficient data centers. There's a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building certification that a few companies, including Highmark, have achieved for their data centers, though it's more than most companies will want to swallow. For most companies, the best benchmark will be the past, using that to set aggressive improvement goals. Highmark, for example, initially wanted to increase CPU utilization by 10% and cut power use by 5%. When it reached that first 5%, the next goal was 10%. 7. Alternative Energy Isn't Cheap When Highmark designed its new data center almost seven years ago, alternative energy sources weren't part of the plan. Going forward, VP of infrastructure management Mark O'Gara says, they will be, though the decision will be driven as much by environmental responsibility reasons and practical considerations as cost-saving ones. 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. Monsanto participates in a partnership with its energy supplier, Ameren UE, called Pure Power that brings Monsanto 10% of its energy from renewable sources. 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, who considers the panels a hedge against energy prices. Microsoft didn't include solar in a soon-to-open mega data center in sunny San Antonio, deciding the technology is several years away from being a fit for an operation of this scale. Still, it's built to hold the weight of and use power from solar panels, if the technology matures. 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 of more than 600 undergraduates 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. Every system on campus is accessible via Web browser, so staff can monitor those systems and remotely control areas that might yield a high expense. IT managers like Brian Mehaffey, Ave Maria's VP of technology systems and engineering, can do things such as turn down the airflow in the church on campus if it's inefficient. For example, Mehaffey 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. Microsoft recycles more than 602,000 gallons a day at one San Antonio data center. Highmark collects rainwater off its roof and stores it underground in a 100,000-gallon tank for cooling IT systems. "A lot of people overlook the water situation," says VP of infrastructure management O'Gara. IBM has a Carbon and Water Management Dashboard that can be used with other dashboards or facilities management software to create reports on water and energy use. Through central monitoring of water systems, Florida's Ave Maria University found that the biggest user isn't showers and toilets as expected, but rather water chillers for the school's air conditioning. It's another incentive to monitor facilities for more efficient ways to cool them. 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. Bryant University's new energy-efficient data center drops cooling down from above, rather than blowing it up from raised floors. Many data centers weren't built for today's higher-density computing marked by blade servers and densely packed virtualized environments. As companies consolidate data centers, it's an opportunity to bring in new approaches. 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.

Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

Jobs to Watch