The 5 quickest returns on your green investment

Some enterprises have found ways to ensure their technology investments provide both environmental benefit and a quick return on investment.

"Because energy efficiency was never a significant factor in the architecting, designing and development of most IT infrastructure in the past, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit that businesses can go after," says Simon Mingay, an analyst at Gartner. "There is so much 'fat' inside most data centers, that it's not that difficult to make a business case where you can make operations greener and save money at the same time."

According to Gartner, the "green wave" has only begun to rise. The research company predicts that by next year, more than a third of all IT organizations will place environmental concerns within their top six buying criteria. By 2010, Gartner says, three-quarters of companies will use carbon-footprint considerations with their hardware-buying strategy and by 2011 large enterprises will develop policies requiring their suppliers to prove their "green credentials" through an auditing process.

Most companies are talking a good game but not really going green where it counts. According to a survey of 124 IT operations by Forrester Research in May 2007, some 85% of respondents said environmental factors are important in planning IT operations. But only a fourth of survey respondents have actually written green criteria into their company's purchasing processes.

Enterprises that have started the green journey, however, have found that reducing total energy requirements can be accomplished through some fairly straightforward improvements that don't take years to implement or bring return.

Consolidate and virtualize

Consolidating IT operations, and using virtualization to reduce sever footprint and energy use, are the most well-recognized and most-often-implemented efficiency strategies of the past few years. Some of the largest technology organizations in the world have recently completed major data center consolidation projects, including Advanced Micro Devices, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Sun Microsystems.

Arlin Sorensen, chief executive and president of Heartland Technology Solutions, a value-added reseller with eight locations in five states, wanted his IT department to support new growth in the business. But he didn't want to relocate the primary data center from its headquarters in Harlan, Iowa, where Sorensen first began the company on his farm as a hobby in 1985.

The company was running about twice the number of servers it had space for, and temperatures were hitting the mid-80s. By moving to newer and more efficient blade servers from HP and using virtualization software from VMware, Heartland has been able to remove about half of the physical hardware in the data center and reduce energy use by about 15%.

"We either had to build a new building or collocate, which likely would have led to increased use of resources for us as a company," Sorensen says. "We found a way to enable us to continue to operate here at our headquarters and reduce total energy usage."

"To me, energy is the 800-pound gorilla out there in eco-space, and it generally translates directly to money," says Mark Monroe, director of sustainable computing at Sun.

In about nine months last year, Sun relocated and consolidated a 200,000-square-foot data center into 72,000 square feet of space within its Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters. The company eliminated the use of some 5,000 electronic devices, including more than 1,000 servers, and reduced total energy requirements by nearly 1.5 megawatts.

Sun is still collecting data, but Monroe says its power reduction will translate to a savings of $1.5 million a year in energy consumption (at 10 cents per kilowatt hour).

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