Why green IT is good for business

As these companies have discovered, when IT projects focus on operational efficiency, sustainability benefits usually follow.

When Kevin Humphries talks about green IT at FedEx, you won't hear much about reducing the company's carbon footprint. FedEx embraced the new math of green IT when it engineered every inch of its new, LEED-certified 46,000-sq.-ft. data center for maximum operational efficiency. "We found the most optimal mathematical model for capacities and efficiencies," says the senior vice president of IT at FedEx Corporate Services. The result is what he calls "a perfect blend" of green energy usage, fiscal savings and rational utilization of equipment and resources.

Elements of the design included flywheel backup power generators, variable-speed fans that help keep the facility's Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating low, and air-side economizers that generate 5,000 hours per year of free cooling for the Colorado Springs building. FedEx also raised the operating temperature in the data center by 5 degrees to cut the cooling bill. Meanwhile, specific rack cooling technologies, alternative energy sources and other systems were not included because FedEx felt they were risky, prone to failure or required undue maintenance. "We had to find the perfect blend of simplicity and advanced technology," Humphries says.

Because the hype and excitement over green IT has diminished over the past few years, and the specter of carbon taxes has faded, organizations have begun to put sustainable IT initiatives on the back burner, or even dismiss them entirely. But successful green IT projects usually go hand in hand with operational efficiency initiatives, where benefits drop down to the bottom line while meeting corporate sustainability goals. "Did we make any trade-offs with efficiency versus cost? There were very few," Humphries says.

The good news is that there are still plenty of relatively easy ways to make your facilities more eco-friendly. "Your average data center remains relatively inefficient," says Simon Mingay, an analyst at Gartner. And that means green IT affords lots of opportunities for gaining favor with the CFO as well as the corporate sustainability advocate. There's even a road map to follow: The best practices for energy efficiency are now well established and readily available from resources such as The Green Grid (see box below), and standards for water usage, carbon usage, renewable energy and e-waste are evolving rapidly.

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