Talking Green IT — without the awkward pauses

Articulating the benefits of green IT takes some finesse. In Part 2 of our special series, we continue a conversation that shows the common objections senior IT professionals might hear, and how they can respond.

Senior Management: “We keep putting all this money into the server room, but why can’t we keep using the equipment we already have?”

CIO: The answer partly comes from the business case, but it’s easy to explain in terms of the development of the automobile. Over the decades, we developed more powerful cars with more horsepower that could go faster and faster, said Hay, and it wasn’t until the early ’70s that anybody paid any attention to fuel economy. A similar thing has happened in the computing world, where the focus has been on computing power, and only in the last three or four years did people start to pay attention to energy consumption.

Using old equipment is a bit of a shortcut, he said, but that’s a route CIOs can take if they don’t have room in the budget or aren’t able to get approval for upgrade servers. “You might not be looking at a 70 per cent utilization rate, but there’s nothing to stop you from running two or three routine applications at a time on a server,” he said. And, if you can show the benefits of virtualization on even just a few applications, that’s a good test case for proceeding forward.

Senior Management: “We’re going green and telling our customers how environmentally responsible we are. By the way, where are you with cutting your budget by another 15 per cent?”

CIO: As a CIO, you may be caught between a rock and a hard place — maybe your senior management has a green agenda, but no plan or budget for it. Or, there’s a lot of talk and no action. If you work for a financial institution caught in the middle of the credit crunch, green is probably not that high on your agenda. But if your company’s whole marketing strategy is around green, then it’s very high on your agenda, said Chris Pratt, strategic initiatives executive with IBM Canada.

Whatever the situation, you have to find a balance. “It cannot be purely emotional and it cannot be purely financial,” he said. “The good news is green is actually relatively easy to measure when compared with other IT initiatives.” While showing the ROI on Web 2.0 initiatives can be difficult, if not impossible, there are solid metrics around the greening of IT, such as kilowatt hours, tons of waste and levels of emissions.

It also depends on the type of organization. While a bank’s business is transacted on computers, a mining company’s business is transacted by machines that dig holes in the ground, he said, so your green profile may be better served by focusing outside the data centre.

Senior Management: “We’ve already put a lot of money into our data centre, so why would I want to sign off on a new data centre build or retrofit the current setup?”

CIO: If the company has a CO2 reduction or sustainability program with specific environmental objectives, then by all means use IT greening as a way to support those objectives. But in many cases, those programs don’t exist, said Dick Sullivan, director of enterprise solutions marketing with EMC. Or, even if a program is in place, in the eyes of the CIO’s manager it may not be critically important.

But if you go after this in the right way, you can save energy, save money and become more efficient in the way that IT operations support the business all at the same time, he said. It’s not unusual to have outdated, outmoded and redundant equipment sitting around that isn’t doing any valuable work — only consuming energy and floor space.

Virtualization is just one element in IT greening. Ultimately you want to consolidate all of the assets you possibly can: servers, storage, networks, applications, IT operations and data centres. But how do you get that message across? It’s all about efficiency, said Sullivan. Take virtualization: it allows you to be much more efficient in the way that you provision IT assets, and that allows your IT operations to be more responsive to the business.

“The nice thing about this is if you’re an environmentalist or a hard-nosed business leader, it doesn’t really make any difference,” he said. “The things we would advise you to do are exactly the same: streamline your operations, make them more efficient, consume less energy.”

Senior Management: “It sounds interesting, but we’re not comfortable moving our entire data centre over to a virtualized environment all at once.”

CIO: Virtualizing a few servers is a good way to start, especially if the CIO is new to the technology or doesn’t have the confidence to move the entire data centre into a virtualized environment all at once. For every server virtualized, you can expect annual savings of US$700 or 7,000 kWh (equivalent to eliminating four tons of CO2 emissions or planting 55 trees). “When people get more mature in their implementations, they start thinking about how they can use virtualization for everything,” said Josh Leslie, director of alliances with VMware. Focus less on consolidation and more on taking a new approach to data centre operations. Is some cases an application can be consolidated 10:1, but perhaps another application can only be consolidated 1:1, but it may still make sense to run it in a virtualized environment because of security and management benefits.

“When 100 per cent of your environment has mobility then you’re driving higher utilization rates across your environment,” he said. The ROI can be dramatic, depending on how much you’re able to consolidate, how much your energy bill is and how much you pay per square foot in your data centre.