How to sell green IT to your senior managers

As global markets plummet, and the world experiences a general tightening of the purse strings, going green probably isn’t at the top of your organization’s priority list. The latest federal election showed that Canadians were not ready to accept the Liberal’s carbon tax and environmental initiatives. So how can CIOs convince their executive team that going green is not only good for the environment, but for the business?

Senior Management: “I like the idea, but now isn’t a good time.”

CIO: Actually, there’s no better time than now. If you really want to talk about green, emphasize consolidation and virtualization, said Jason Bremner, director of Canadian infrastructure hardware research with IDC Canada. “If you pitch it at all, you better be pitching it that way.” But one thing people tend to forget is that they don’t need to virtualize in order to consolidate – which simply means reducing the number of devices they have in the organization. If all employees get a desktop and a notebook, for example, perhaps that could be reduced down to a single device. And that doesn’t require any virtualization – it’s straight consolidation and rationalization (a concept that even the biggest technophobe can understand).

When it comes to servers or other forms of infrastructure, you can still consolidate without virtualization. A lot of IT practices dictate that if you roll out a new application, you have to put it on a new server. But, you could run two applications on the same server – no virtualization required. “We typically see organizations go through a phased approach,” said Bremner. “First they consolidate, which may or may not involve virtualization.”

Senior Management: “Okay, but can you actually tell me what the ROI will be?”

CIO: If you can reduce the number of servers and other devices – routers or switches or really big tape libraries – you can cut down on the cost of powering that infrastructure, and possibly even real estate. IDC did a study at Ryerson University in Toronto, for example, and found that by consolidating and virtualizing its computing services group within the IT department – from 200 servers down to 20 or 25 – the budget for powering those servers dropped by 80 per cent.

But set realistic expectations about what the financial benefits might be, said Bremner, because you may have to spend some money to get some money at the backend. “We typically see companies saving 20 to 25 per cent in the first year by implementing virtualization if they’re able to cut down the number of servers by 20 per cent or more,” he said. “Then there’s going to be follow-on [savings].”

Typically the average server runs at less than 10 per cent capacity, so there’s a lot of overhead associated with that, said David McJannet, group manager of Windows Server Systems with Microsoft Canada. Microsoft’s Web site has a free ROI calculator that determines what your savings will be through server virtualization, as well as a tool that helps determine which servers in your particular environment are the best candidates for virtualization and what a project plan would look like.

“It’s relatively quick to virtualize things, but how do you build out the processes and manage them properly?” he said. “Management becomes the most important thing.” Make sure you address this aspect, along with the projected ROI.

Senior Management: “But if we’re trying to be more environmentally friendly, does it make sense to throw our old servers into a landfill just to buy new ones?”

CIO: Before anybody goes out and builds a new data centre or gets seduced by the hardware vendors and buys more servers, look at what you have, said Rakesh Kumar, vice-president of Gartner. If your servers are three or four or five years old, chances are they still have a good technical life left in them. “There’s no reason why we can’t virtualize these servers because the software is perfectly valid on most x86 boxes,” he said. “Work those assets, don’t buy new stuff.”

Senior Management: “So why did we buy all this stuff in the first place?”

CIO: The first thing you can do, as a CIO, is clean up your own act. The level of waste across the average enterprise is extremely high, said Chris Pratt, strategic initiatives executive with IBM Canada. “We’ve gone through a couple of decades of server proliferation versus consolidation, and storage has become so cheap that everybody has far more disks than they ever need,” he said. “People are now understanding we cannot keep throwing equipment at problems, so the CIO is incumbent to fix their own facilities.”

It’s no longer acceptable for every department to have their own server running at five per cent capacity. But the greening of the data centre is not a “point in time” project; it’s more like a lifestyle change. It’s about doing things differently. But that doesn’t mean we all have to be tree-huggers and refuse to do anything that makes common business sense, he added.

Senior Management: “How will this contribute to an overall green strategy?”

CIO: Think of what you could do with the money you’ll save on server consolidation and virtualization. Perhaps it could be used in other parts of the business or for more green projects. Because virtualization doesn’t stop at servers – it can be done for storage, networks, desktops and applications.

“In the area of network virtualization we’ve gone from using separate devices for separate functions to how can I leverage one device across many different business functions?” said Geoff Hayami, director of business development for data centres with Cisco Canada. Pitch business leaders on the value of virtualization around maximizing the current assets they already have – and how that factors into the bottom line. These days, organizations are more stringent about acquiring new technology to help their business, so they’re taking a look at their existing infrastructure and finding ways of maximizing it.

The economic incentive is very much in line with the green incentive, said McJannet, since they both serve the same purpose. “It’s one of those rare scenarios where it helps you to do both.” And with less than 10 per cent of servers virtualized around the world, there’s a lot of potential to make a global impact.