IT Infrastructure Drill-Down: Green IT

The concept of making a data center “greener” by boosting efficiency isn’t new — for as long as centers have existed, it’s been the nearly Sisyphean task for CIOs and managers to keep tweaking strategies until operations can be as streamlined as possible.

But, as many have found, it can be an elusive goal, given the rise in user demands, bandwidth-hogging applications, security controls, and equipment depreciation. Green IT, though, purports to ease some of the headaches with a large-scale approach.

Through frequent use of the term, there’s some danger in losing definition, however. Much like trying to pinpoint what “efficiency” represents in a data center, building meaning around “green IT” is increasingly tough in the face of vendor releases that tout green features and green advantages.

In some ways, it’s like the food industry’s use of the word “natural” to woo consumers who want farm-fresh products, and opt for a foodstuff that purports to be “natural” even though only a few ingredients might fit that definition.

But in general, “green” is often used to denote any strategy that reduces the amount of power consumption in a center, with environmentally-friendly factors like equipment recycling coming into play.

Instead of making minor adjustments to each networked machine, the lean-and-green approach includes virtualization — to reduce the amount of equipment — and more monitoring controls that intelligently route power and cooling.

Even telecommuting can be part of a green initiative, since it reduces the number of workers in an office, and therefore cut down on equipment needs. Although a network might have to be more robust to support this structure, it’s often considered more efficient despite being somewhat more time-consuming on the management side.

The transition to green data centers has a number of drivers, with the highest being budgetary. Cost cutting through virtualization has been attractive, and is likely to get even more compelling as the economy stays dour.

“People are going to get very serious about power savings, green initiatives, and server compaction via virtualization, and these are all related,” notes John Baschab, author of “The Executive’s Guide to Information Technology.”

Storage, in particular, is causing growing interest in greener strategies, says Steve Sams, IBM’s VP of Site and Facilities. The incredible spike in the demand for storage capacity was one of the reasons IBM launched Project Big Green a few years ago, and ensuing EPA reports about energy use was also a driver, Sams notes.

“There are estimates that energy use will double every five years unless something changes,” he says. “That translates into making data centers more flexible, and we’re finding that many corporations are leaning toward being environmentally responsible for that effort.”

It’s also a nice bit of PR for a company when they employ more green strategies, since it demonstrates that the company is eco-friendly.

So, with the numerous advantages to infrastructure that can come as a result of greening up a data center’s operations, why isn’t every company a pleasant shade of Kermit by now?