Making IT Environmentally Friendly

How can you help a company go green? By being a well informed manager, by buying new kinds of hardware and software, and by redeploying existing technology in cost-cutting and carbon-saving ways. As organizations look to cut costs through energy savings and more efficient use of the infrastructures they already have, each of these areas become specialties in high demand. 

Before you unplug a single server, it’s vital to get complete corporate buy in. The way to do that is to focus first on potential cost savings, not environmental issues. Saving the planet may be a noble goal, but bolstering the bottom line is certain to be more important to the CEO. Determine how much energy your total IT assets consume, and how much that energy costs. Create a "green team" that includes people from facilities, business units, and marketing. Work together to set a first round of realistic goals that, once achieved, will spur enthusiasm and lead to more ambitious plans. Then roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Here are the big steps you’ll be taking.

Virtualize and Consolidate

Studies have shown that up to 10 percent of servers in operation consume power but do little work. Virtualization increases server utilization, which means fewer servers are needed. Less power is consumed, less cooling is needed, less space is required, and ultimately fewer staff members may be needed. Virtualizing servers can also slow or eliminate the need to build a new data center down the line. As Albert Esser, vice president of data center infrastructure at Dell, has said, "The greenest data center you can have is the one you don’t build."

When procuring new equipment, look into high-capacity yet compact blade servers (essentially entire servers built onto an expansion card). They’re typically ten percent more efficient than traditional servers. When you do buy servers, look for energy-efficient multi-core CPUs that reduce redundant electronics and save on energy. Investigate CPU performance-stepping technology that dynamically adjusts the energy processors require as their load varies. Try to cut back on the amount of storage hardware you require by using storage area networks or network-attached storage that make consolidation easy, thereby saving on power.

Even if you can’t totally eliminate your data center, consider managed services. By turning to outsourced services where you can and buying computing resources in a pay-as-you-go scenario, you can control costs without sacrificing capacity or reliability (if it is done through a trusted provider with a strong Service Level Agreement).

Replace Old Hardware

When you set out to procure new hardware, choose only models that have been certified as energy efficient either via EPEAT or Energy Star standards. Look into low-power flat-screen displays, solid state rather than traditional storage, and thin clients where they’re appropriate. You may find that in some cases, equipment classified as state-of-the-art energy-efficient costs a little more, but Climate Savers – a nonprofit group of consumers, businesses and conservation organizations – says that in the case of PCs, the difference is likely to be only $30 per system, dropping to nearly zero for volume purchases. 

Look for Efficient Software Apps

Software can aid in efficiency, as well. Look for applications that are multi-threaded to take advantage of multi-core-processor systems. As has always been the case, hardware evolves faster than the software that runs on it, so new state-of-the-art hardware can be overpowered for yesterday’s applications. Keep that in mind as you investigate new software purchases.

Update the Physical Plant

Reportedly, 90 percent of companies with big data centers will need to add power and cooling within the next two years, so data center design is more important than ever. Laying out a data center is a science unto itself. Since the 1990s, for example, experts have been recommending a hot aisle/cold aisle arrangement, where cool air flows into servers¿ front air intakes and flows out the back as near as possible to the air conditioning return ducts. Liquid cooling systems are also becoming prevalent. While relatively expensive to install, they usually pay for themselves over time.

You may also want to consider letting the temperature of your data center rise just a bit. Increasing the set temperature by just one degree can reduce energy consumption by four to five percent. However, you must proceed with caution and make sure to check all warranties before attempting this technique.

Learn Power Management

Most of us neglect to optimize the power-saving settings on our home computers, and the same is true in many corporate network centers and offices. It’s vital to create policies for power settings to achieve the appropriate hibernate/sleep/shutdown on idle systems. Employees should be encouraged – or forced – to turn off computers and devices that are not in use overnight. You should also activate the sophisticated power-management features that are available on your servers.

Change Corporate Culture

What’s your company’s telecommuting policy? When employees can work from home even part of the time, their morale goes up and their automobile use goes down. At the same time, you can look into consolidating office space. Also, investigate videoconferencing and "telepresence" systems make it possible for companies to consider cutting back on business travel.. Video collaboration can happen not only among employees but also among your partners, customers, and suppliers. Such technologies aren’t just for talking. Documents, presentations, and almost any kind of application can be shared and worked on long-distance by collaborators.

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