Business Value Powers Green IT

See also: Inside an Energy Efficient Data Center, Cooling Data Center Costs.

Joe Parrino isn’t kidding when he says that a green data center is a critical part of running a business well. In an era of spiking energy prices and oppressive cost pressures, squeezing out savings through energy efficiency is nothing less than a mission for the United Parcel Service (UPS) facilities engineer. 

“It’s just as important as any other business operation,” he says. “We have an obligation to the company and to the world to reduce consumption and boost efficiency.”

UPS has delivered in a big way. Since 2006, when the company formulated a strategic plan for energy efficiency and green IT, it has trimmed its energy footprint by nearly 18 percent. Among other things, UPS has made changes to its data center, embraced server virtualization, and developed a strategy for dealing with server refreshes and other equipment. “We’ve already grabbed the low-hanging fruit, but the job isn’t close to being finished,” Parrino says.

Make no mistake, green IT is going mainstream. According to data center association AFCOM, slightly more than 71 percent of organizations surveyed indicate they are now actively engaged in green initiatives. 

“The situation has evolved from focusing on a few key areas to the greening of the entire platform,” says Gary Davis, director of data center practice for PlanNet Consulting. What’s more, “Organizations aren’t only looking at cost savings; they’re also considering their image,” he adds.

Indeed, enterprises are turning to an array of tools and technologies to amp up the savings. The list includes green building methods; solar power; water and ambient air exchange for cooling; lighting; server and rack configurations; and virtualization. Meanwhile, organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Green Grid, an industry consortium that promotes energy efficiency, have created calculators and other tools that analyze and track energy consumption.

Yet challenges remain. AFCOM found that only about 42 percent of organizations have a formal green IT plan in place. In addition, companies are struggling to find the money to upgrade buildings, equipment and systems, and many lack the necessary buy-in from senior management. 

A recent IBM survey uncovered a “green gap” in U.S. office buildings: Only one-third of office workers say their buildings are environmentally friendly; 14 percent say their buildings use renewable energy, and three-quarters would increase conservation efforts if rewarded. 

Part of the problem is that IT usually isn’t charged for the energy used in data centers. “IT often doesn’t know what energy costs,” points out W. Pitt Turner, executive director of the Uptime Institute in Danville, Calif. “So why should CIOs spend more money to buy energy-efficient technology when that will increase IT’s capital costs while the energy reductions will help another department’s bottom line. 

“Energy costs need to be shared among all related departments—facilities, IT, finance, etc. All stakeholders, including procurement and line-of-business managers, need to be involved in energy-reduction efforts.” 

But progress is being made. As Stephen Singh, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), puts it: “We have encountered the perfect storm. Higher energy prices, an economic downturn and growing pressure to be socially responsible have made green a priority.”