How to start the green IT conversation with senior execs

Sure, most people don’t want to trash the environment, but it doesn’t mean your company is willing to make any investments around green IT. And CIOs may have a tough time convincing senior management to invest in more data centre build-outs or buy new servers, just for the sake of being more environmentally friendly.

In some cases CIOs have not been able to articulate the issues around green IT and perhaps got a negative response from senior management. The problem is we have a very real issue with IT energy consumption, and yet there’s a lot of hype around the environment, said Rakesh Kumar, vice-president with Gartner. If the issues are misaligned and CIOs ask for funding, they’re going to get a negative response.

But, if a CIO is able to get the message across in terms of operational efficiencies and a reduction in energy costs, he or she is more likely to win support and get funding for those projects, since people will spend money to save money.

“If the CIO portrays the issue as much more generic, as much more environmental, all of which are valid, he or she is not going to get a positive response.” Here’s how CIOs can pitch the benefits around green IT.

Senior Management: “I’m all for the environment, but we’ve got a business to run, and times are tough.”

CIO: Don’t come across as a tree-hugger. Show how this will help the business, particularly during tough times. Do an energy audit of your data centre, understand the projections going forward and use that as a basis for your presentation to senior management.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that data centre energy usage will double between 2006 and 2011, said Kumar, and once this issue is articulated in that kind of financial, pragmatic way, then you take any tree-hugging context out of it.

In 12 months from now, you could significantly free up resources using virtualization and consolidation. You could rearrange the way servers are laid out within a matter of weeks and conduct airflow studies within one or two months.

“The CIO can have a set of activities that lay out what’s going to happen over the next year and provide metrics around savings,” he said.

Senior Management: “With all this investment, are the energy savings really going to be worth it?”

CIO: Your business case becomes extremely attractive if you factor in increasing energy costs, especially since delaying energy-efficiency upgrades is going to become more expensive as time goes by. The conversation should not centre on the environmental benefits, but on a clear business case – and a sidebar to that conversation should be the reduction in environmental impact, said Aaron Hay, research consultant with Info-Tech Research Group.

For example, say you have 20 server racks that consume three kilowatt hours each, and after an upgrade you’ll have 10 server racks that consume two kilowatt hours each, at six cents per kilowatt hour. If you upgrade your servers to double utilization through virtualization and upgrade your air conditioning and ventilation systems (in Canada you can use cold air in the winter to cool the data centre), you can easily calculate your projected cost savings.

In this example, before the upgrade you’re looking at a three-year cost of about $230,000 to run the data centre, and after the upgrade it’s $210,000 with an estimated $150,000 of investment in the first year. And that’s a relatively conservative estimate, said Hay, since some businesses in the U.S. are dealing with rates as high as 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

“It’s going to have a very attractive ROI, and that’s a business case that’s very easy to prove.”

It could also allow for the expansion of future computing needs without buying new hardware and create a high-efficiency infrastructure that would be more reliable, which could contribute to less downtime. Some utility companies in North America (such as BC Hydro) have been working with VMware to introduce rebate programs for virtualization projects, so that’s another area where CIOs can investigate possible savings. Customers can expect to save between US$150 to US$500 for each server virtualized and removed from the data centre.

The conversation continues in part two of our series, appearing in October.