Green IT is good for the environment and good for the bottom line
- By Michael Hardy
- Nov 07, 2007
As federal agencies and corporations
look more closely at
how environmentally friendly
their information technology
operations are, vendors are
responding with products,
services and advice.
It helps that green IT covers both kinds
of green: the environment and money.
Environmentally friendly programs often
save on costs, especially in the long run.
One Defense Department agency cut
$3.4 million a year on its power costs when
it replaced all its PCs with thin-client terminals
connected to a back-end server, said Bill
Vass, president and chief operating officer of
Sun Microsystems Inc.'s federal division.
"That's a great example that green isn't
just ecology, it's also money," he said.
Large IT operations have several options
for becoming greener, such as thin-client
computers, one of Sun's specialties. They
are little more than monitors and input
devices; most of the computing takes place
on a server, reducing paper demand and
emissions. Data center virtualization consolidates
computing demands onto fewer
servers and saves on electricity costs.
Telework programs are becoming viable
options for many employees.
Government contractors and their partners
are ready to help agencies with any or
all of those approaches to going green.Data center of gravity
"Helping clients of all sizes is an important
issue," said Rich Lechner, vice president
of IT optimization and system software
at IBM Corp. "We believe that, on
average, a client can save about 40 percent
of the total power being consumed in the
data centers by taking a holistic approach."
Data centers are perhaps the single
largest target for green efforts. In traditional
environments, a typical server CPU
is used about 5 percent to 15 percent of the
time the machine is on, Vass said.
"You're generating all this heat, and 90
percent to 95 percent is being thrown away
because you're not using it," he said.
Virtualization technologies consolidate
the demands of several servers onto one.
That server's CPU runs 80 percent or 90
percent of the time and can handle the
needs of dozens of computers, Vass said.
"Virtualization of all sorts gives you a
lever to use to consolidate gear," said
Jonathan Eunice, principal IT adviser at
the consulting firm Illuminata Inc. "We
have a lot more of an ability to shrink the
footprint of storage. Over the last couple of
years, we've realized that we've massively
overprovisioned and we're not using the
gear we have."
Money will probably always be a bigger
motivator than ecological friendliness, he
said, but the effect is beneficial either way.
"It's hard to control sprawl so you need a
powerful tool," he said. "Virtualization has
come along as a very powerful tool."No stone unturned
Finding ways to go green in the data
center means examining everything, from
the big picture down to the fine details. For
example, IBM has developed energy-saving
servers by modifying the exhaust fans,
The always-spinning fan accounts for
about one-third of a server's power usage,
he said. "So we've introduced systems that
have heat sensors built in, and the fan
speed is variable," he said. "The fan only
spins as often and as fast as it needs to to
dissipate the heat. That one innovation
alone can reduce the power consumption
of a server by 15 percent."
Although hardware is the most visible
target, software can also play a role in
using computing power more efficiently,
said Jim Russell, vice president of the public
sector at Symantec Corp. He said the
company's Endpoint Protection software,
which bundles seven key security measures
into one application, requires fewer
processor cycles to run.
"There's a way that you can architect
families of software products that are similar
to bring the cost of processing down
significantly," he said.
Like many efforts to persuade people to
change their way of thinking, virtualization
faces cultural resistance. Simon Shiach,
vice president of technology services at
Unisys Corp., compared it to carpooling.
Most commuters agree that carpooling is a good idea, but many of them still drive to
"This is about the maturity of your environment,"
Shiach said. "It's not just about
pooling resources. People are still concerned
about pooling resources."
Virtualization isn't complete without
control systems. Because the systems share
resources in different ways than they do in
more traditional configurations, data center
managers need new software to govern
the interaction and provisioning of servers.
"When you move from a fixed model to a
virtual one, a whole lot of things change,"
said Andy Jordan, program manager of the
real-time infrastructure program at Unisys.
"When everything is locked away in a box,
they're easier to maintain and protect than
when they're in a virtual environment."Recycling cuts waste
When organizations upgrade to more current
technology, they generate piles of obsolete
computers they must dispose of. Rather
than haul the machines off to landfills, some
organizations are finding more ecologically
friendly ways to unload the computers, with
the help of vendor partners.
"The large vendors have all arranged
extensive recycling centers and programs
so that you don't just create more trash,"
Eunice said. "There is a clear reclamation
and reuse aspect to it."
Dell Inc. is one company with an ambitious
recycling program. It has take-back
programs for all of the hardware that customers
use, said Max Peterson, Dell's vice
president of sales for civilian agencies.
"When the useful life is over, a lot of
times those excess assets end up piling up
in rooms, in inventory areas, even in aisles
sometimes," he said. "There are issues
about disposing of it. Dell offers those
asset-recovery services, and federal customers
in particular are taking advantage
Other agencies are moving to the thinclient
PCs that Sun and other companies
offer. Because the desktop unit is not a
full-fledged computer, it does not need to
be replaced as frequently as traditional PCs
do, Vass said.
Packaging is a more mundane aspect of
minimizing waste, but Dell has made
changes to its shipping practices to reduce
waste there as well, Peterson said.
"In the past, customers got pallets of
individually wrapped items," he said. "That
created a deployment problem because you
had all that material to get rid of."
Now the company offers an optional
multipack process, under which Dell ships
several products wrapped together instead
of individually.Where green fits
In the past, companies did not often highlight
environmental benefits to sell their
products and services, but that is changing.
Customers are increasingly interested in
hearing about energy savings, reduced emissions
and other improvements.
However, Vass said most of Sun's federal
customers still see green as an economic
rather than an environmental motivation.
"Right now, I find for a lot of them it's
very much an economic decision," he said.
"They look at the amount of power they're
using and figure out how to reduce it. It hits
your pocketbook directly. Driving a more
energy-efficient car is not as important
when gas is cheap. When gas is more expensive,
you look at how it can save you money."
By next year, he said, agencies will begin
thinking more about the ecological consequences
of their decisions.
"More and more, customers both in the
public sector and in commercial companies
are under pressure to be green because customers
and employees want it," Lechner
said. "The social and environmental
responsibility dimension is a motivating
force, but we're mostly seeing customers
coming for the economic and operational
But things might be changing, Peterson
"I think the attitudes are definitely continuing
to shift," he said. "When I talked to
customers three years ago, green IT was
not part of the conversation. Today they're
interested and concerned and want to
know how to do it better."Associate Editor Michael Hardy can be reached
Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.