Slow-Growing Green

Old notion: Green computing is expensive and low-yield. New order: Green offers easy ways to save cash.

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With so many focused on reducing energy demand, IT organizations can easily sell initiatives that reduce power consumption -- a quick way to save money and become green, says Katharine Kaplan, product manager at Energy Star for Consumer Electronics and IT at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Power management is probably one of the easiest, low-cost ways to get big, big savings," Kaplan says, pointing out that using power management features on desktop PCs can save $50 per computer per year. Enabling power management tools on monitors can save another $12 to $90 annually per monitor.

Becky Blalock, senior vice president and CIO at Southern Co., an Atlanta-based energy company, says her organization is implementing power management technology to ensure that its 26,000 desktops are asleep at night and during other times of inactivity. Although the numbers aren't in yet, Blalock says she expects high savings throughout the organization.

Managing desktops is just the start, says Henry Wong, senior staff technologist in the eco-technology program office at Intel Corp. He points out that better asset management is another simple step that can cut energy demand and costs. Just examine your operations to identify and turn off any device that isn't used or needed.

Mark O'Gara, vice president of infrastructure management at Highmark Inc., a health insurance company in Pittsburgh, says he's examining the need for any device that draws power -- any fax machine, printer or copier -- and figuring how to reduce its energy demands by either using power management tools or getting rid of the device. He says he's working with the company's facilities department to get baseline readings so he'll be able to measure progress.

"You can start to see what energy we use, find opportunities to reduce power costs and find ways to reduce it through capital improvements," O'Gara says.

Another quick way to introduce green benefits that have financial paybacks is through refresh initiatives and procurement policies, says Michelle Erickson, initiative director of the sustainable IT program in global operations and technology at Citigroup Inc. in New York. For example, Citi is looking at implementing thin clients, which, because they have lower power needs, save money and reduce the company's carbon footprint.

Erickson also recommends setting procurement policies that specify that new equipment must be Energy Star-complaint, thereby ensuring that the company is getting more energy-efficient computers. And with new Energy Star standards rolling out in 2009, the policy will apply to servers too.

Similar strategies can be employed in the data center, Wong says. Look at the machines you have, and consolidate where you can to maximize the use of each server -- but make sure that you can still meet the needs of your business units.

"We did this at Intel and had a $3 million cost avoidance," Wong says. The dollar savings came from not having to build a new physical structure and pay for that new building's ongoing maintenance. As for the green benefits, there's less demand for power and new equipment.

"You can see another building that doesn't have to exist anymore. And it's the HVAC system, the people, the maintenance area -- it's not just IT. That's a really big to-do," Wong adds.

But even organizations that aren't ready for those kinds of projects can simply start by controlling the temperature, Wong says. Although it will be necessary to monitor the humidity when doing so, most companies can raise the temperature at least a few degrees and start lowering their air conditioning demands. And don't forget about using that natural air for cooling.

It might not be the biggest step, but it's a start.

Next: Mission-critical security projects escape the budget ax

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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