Power struggle: What role should IT play in reining in energy costs?

Is it time for IT managers to add 'energy czar' to their list of job roles? Google, Yahoo and other early adopters explore the options.

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And energy-minded corporations themselves? Computerworld's spot check found that, rather than making one person accountable, most organizations are scattering energy efficiency responsibility through several organizations -- IT, facilities and even marketing.

Google's energy czar

Google is one of very few, if not the only, major U.S. corporation that currently employs someone with "energy czar" in his title, although he is not directly responsible for data center costs. "My focus is on 'greening' Google's energy supply," explains Bill Weihl, Google's green energy czar for the past two and a half years.

Weihl's goals are to figure out how Google can use more sources of renewable energy as well as how to use that energy more efficiently. But when it comes to data centers, his role is advisory.

There is a single person at Google who is responsible for both equipment and operating infrastructure energy costs, says Weihl, and that's his boss, Urs Hölzle, senior vice president, operations, and a Google fellow. Hölzle reports to a senior vice president of engineering, who in turn reports to the CEO.

But everyone at Google is "empowered to think about total cost of ownership," Weihl stresses. "That has led to a lot of innovation around energy efficiency. We've been ahead of the curve in making trade-offs between the equipment budget and the operations budget." For example, Google has been designing and building its own energy-efficient equipment for several years, Weihl says.

Yahoo's energy strategy

Yahoo does not have an energy czar, but it does have Christina Page, who has been director of climate and energy strategy since July 2007 and whose job it is to coordinate energy efficiency efforts across the company, including the data centers.

Page reports to Meg Garlinghouse, a senior director and the head of a committee known as Yahoo for Good, which focuses on community relations, including efforts to promote green practices. Garlinghouse reports to the senior vice president of marketing.

When energy reports to marketing, it raises a red flag among skeptics on the lookout for companies that are more interested in "greenwashing" than they are in real organizational change. Page bristles at the suggestion that that's the case at Yahoo.

"I have a budget and a mandate that reaches across organizational silos and comes with the blessing of the co-founders," she points out. "I have authority and flexibility to look for the leverage points across the entire company that will create the maximum positive impact in addressing global greenhouse gas emissions."

Day to day, Page says that she shares best practices and works to help forge partnerships. "It's really important to have a conversation between IT and the folks who run the data centers," she says. She talks with engineers and facilities staffers on a tactical level and with executives at a strategic level -- and that can involve making recommendations to the CEO and chief technology officer. Total cost of ownership, she says, "is top of mind for our folks here, all the way up to the CTO and co-founders."

Bank of Montreal: CTO in charge

Bank of Montreal has come fairly close to the McKinsey ideal by putting IT and facilities under one executive -- the CTO.

As part of a program launched two years ago to better manage its IT equipment and infrastructure, the company created a new position -- manager of data center governance. The position is responsible for forecasting IT equipment needs and translating them into language that the facilities department can understand, says Mike Wills, director of facilities management.

Wills, who helped create the new role, has 30 years of experience in IT, having moved over to facilities only about three years ago. The data center governance manager, Rocco Alonzi, is Wills' counterpart in IT.

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