Outsourcer, storage vendor tout their green strategies

Building a business case for green initiatives in the enterprise can be a challenge, but the process is eased somewhat if your original service or product happens to tie right into the eco-friendly movement, as is the case with the data storage and management company EMC and IT outsourcer and consulting firm EDS. ComputerWorld Canada spoke to company representatives about their green strategies prior to the pair’s presentations at the International Green IT Summit, an EDS Agility Alliance-sponsored event scheduled in Calgary next week.

Dale Hoenshell, global environmental sustainability manager with the Plano, Texas-based EDS, said that its green initiatives fall into several categories, including its own operations and employee engagement. But the number-one pillar, according to Hoenshell, is its eco-friendly client services.

Projects include changes to their clients’ data centres, such as increased server virtualization implementations (which are done in partnership with vendors like VMWare, along with Sun and Dell). “We’re finding that entry-level servers are the most popular, but the least utilized—they’re often running at less than five per cent server capacity,” said Hoenshell.

The company has also been partnering with Xerox to green up its managed output services (i.e. printing). He said, “We’ve installed multi-function machines that default to double-sided printing and use environmentally-friendly toner. We’ve also gotten rid of personal printers, so all that extra paper and toner cartridges are gone.”

EDS also practices end-of-life management by employing recycling firms, and providing hardware that is recycling-friendly. When asked whether the company ensures that it retains firms that do not ship its recyclable products overseas for stripping, he said, “I believe we try and keep it here.” Hoenshell also pointed out that end-of-life practices are increasingly being governed by regulations from authorities like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulations.

When it comes to energy consumption, Hoenshell said that EDS has been working with its clients on developing incentives around their IT equipment purchases. “By selling storage by the byte and underutilized servers, we’re locking ourselves into a much larger (carbon) footprint. If you sell by the application or by the server, what’s the business value there? You’re just pushing your utility bill higher instead of your footprint lower,” he said. Hoenshell said that customers should instead “contract around actual value”—by, essentially, hiring outsourcers like EDS who can get better package deals and administer their services along with it.

The green trend has allowed businesses like EDS to pile on more partners to add to their package deals. A new addition to the EDS family is Toronto-based green lighting technology that uses computer-enabled lights to reduce power consumption by changing the lighting levels according to time of day and sunlight, and scheduling. According to Hoenshell, “There is a significant server and software implementations (around this) to be made—it’s a growth market.”

These and other greener solutions aren’t pushed on all EDS customers, but are instead proffered by the account executives and sales teams to customers who, like most businesses, are on the look-out for cost savings in their IT infrastructure and services, said Hoenshell, who said that the relatively-new option of going green does, however, require a rock-solid business case. Said Hoenshell: “When we develop these services, we pay a lot of attention to the business case. With some companies’ business requirements, they don’t all implement, but most are pretty open to the idea—there’s a lot of energy around that conversation right now.”

The green conversation over at the Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC must be full of energy—the company’s long-time strategy and offerings tie right into the green movement. Director of enterprise solution marketing and data centre efficiency Dick Sullivan said that the enterprise idea of what constitutes eco-friendliness is changing. “That discussion used to start and end with energy efficiency in the data centre, but there now is a broader sense of the issues around sustainability,” he said.

He cited a recent IDC report that stated that there was an annual compounded growth of 56 per cent for external storage. This, in tandem with the spiraling energy costs in the data centre (which, he said, usually guzzles about half of the power in the enterprise), mean that there are plenty of eager listeners when it comes to EMC’s core strategy: consolidation, automation, virtualization and optimization.

Said Sullivan: “People need to understand what the definition of ‘green IT’ is. They need to look at their system in a holistic way and think about IT and what purpose it has and (its relationship to) business processes. It has to be a collaboration between IT, the data centre infrastructure support, and the customer.”

This is where EMC’s services come in—they are indeed both eco-friendly (they reduce power consumption) and make for a good business case for cost savings (a smaller electricity bill), and require all three parties to work together. “Most people are only using five to 20 per cent of their server capacity, but using consolidation and virtualization technologies can raise that productivity up to 80 per cent or more. And by using these methods, you can drive down energy use and costs overall by around 70 per cent,” said Sullivan.

He advocates using all these practices to reap the most cost savings, comparing it, he said, to buying an energy-efficient car instead of buying pieces of the car one by one. But “doing something (on its own) is not a bad thing,” he said, suggesting single practices of the EMC product strategy like data de-duplication, archiving and virtualization in the meantime.