3 Simple Steps to Cutting Energy Use & Costs with Green IT

3 Simple Steps to Cutting Energy Use & Costs with Green IT

Regardless of size, most companies now have a sustainability strategy. Whether it's due to good economic sense, a corporate desire to do the "right thing," an evolving business model, or adhering to government mandates, the necessity for businesses to operate in a more sustainable manner has become the topic of the day.

In the short term, most businesses look to simplify operations through the most obvious means such as adopting recycling policies, implementing energy-efficient lighting and limiting travel by allowing employees to work from home and teleconferencing. While these can have a direct and immediate impact, it is the greening of the technology within a company that can provide far more significant sustainability benefits.

According to research conducted by Gartner, Inc., energy use from servers, desktops, monitors and laptops is the largest single category of IT energy consumption in the United States, accounting for 47 percent of all IT electricity costs.

Businesses can achieve measurable reductions in energy consumption and save millions of dollars just by adhering to three simple tactics:

1. Decommission Non-Useful Servers

The global IT industry accounts for two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, an amount equivalent to the world's airline industry. Data centers account for 30 percent of these emissions, but it is the fastest growing area of IT energy use, largely driven by the proliferation of corporate and personal data and the move toward the cloud.

According to McKinsey Group, data center energy consumption is increasing by 13.8 percent annually. If left unconstrained, and current trends continue, data center GHG emissions will grow by a factor of four by 2020. At that rate, the power demands for data centers alone will become a larger cause for carbon emissions than the entire airline industry by 2020.

A rapid increase in the number of servers in a data center brings with it an administration and support overhead, and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep tabs on what every server is doing and if it is still required. This becomes even more difficult with the adoption of server virtualization technologies, with the result that servers that fall out of use can remain undetected.

When this happens, the surplus servers are not removed from the environment or re-utilized elsewhere since the IT department and the business are not aware of the fact that the servers are no longer required.

1E and the Alliance to Save Energy, a leading Washington think-tank, previously commissioned a U.S. server energy report. In one of the key findings of the report, 72 percent of data center managers in the United States said they believed that up to 15 percent of their servers, or one in six servers, were doing no "useful work" --  that is, no longer performing the tasks for which they were originally commissioned -- and could simply be decommissioned or repurposed.

With an average operational cost for each unused physical server at $4,400 per year, and each virtual server at $1,000 per year, the total cost across the IT industry of running up to one in six servers that are not doing any useful work is just under $25B per year, or $125B over five years.

Once the servers have been monitored, those identified doing non-useful work can be eliminated completely. The virtualized instances continue to run and serve the business needs exactly as required. A single server running multiple instances means the business is still served but through a smaller, more efficient, footprint.

For example, Parker Hannifin and the West Virginia Office of Technology each saved millions of dollars by decommissioning non-useful servers. Parker immediately saved an estimated $2 million in server costs and annually saves $600,000 in energy costs alone. The West Virginia Office of Technology eliminated the need for 100 software deployment servers, saving an estimated $550,000.

2. Manage PC and Laptop Power Consumption

Implementing windows power managing settings, employing Energy Star rated hardware and migrating the company's PC assets to Windows 7 can all have an impact on reducing the amount of power being consumed by the business. While these actions have helped improve upon power consumption techniques, even more savings can be realized by employing PC power management software across the organization.

In fact, a 1E/ Alliance to Save Energy report on PC energy consumption in the United States found that more than half of the 108 million corporate PCs in the United States were being left on when not being used, in particular at night and on weekends. Using available PC power management technologies to automatically shut down those PCs when not in use would save $2.8 billion in avoidable energy costs and 20 million tons of CO2 per year in the United States -- or nearly $15 billion in savings and 100 million tons of CO2 over next five years.

By centralizing the management of PC power consumption, companies such as Ford and Dell, have created and enforced policies that optimize energy use while still maintaining business requirements and employee satisfaction. Ford expects to save $1.2 million annually and reduce its carbon footprint by an estimated 16,000 to 25,000 metric tons a year.

Meanwhile, Dell achieved a 40 percent reduction in energy consumption and a cost saving of $1.8 million per year. Shutting off a computer when it is not in use, is one of the simplest ideas, but without centralized technology that actually works, even this simple idea can never be implemented.

3. Improve IT Asset Utilization & Visibility

Finally, one of the most overlooked aspects of company technology is the software running on the PCs. Earlier this year, 1E and IAITAM commissioned a report on software license usage in the United States. Given that "shelfware" is an accepted industry term for software that has been purchased and not deployed, it is perhaps not surprising that the report found that on average U.S. companies have $414 of unused software per employee!

Getting control over software licensing and actual software use has always been a painful prospect and lends itself to non-management. Implementing solutions that automate the tracking, monitoring, and consumption of software can save the business an enormous amount of time and resource.

Giving the business user the ability to request software that is then delivered and reclaimed automatically (with proper management approvals) while taking into account actual use and cost, is a huge factor for reclaiming time, cost, and employee job performance. In the past, functions like this have not been able to be automated, but now it is.

While they may sound daunting at first, these three measures have been highly effective in delivering on the sustainability strategies of many leading U.S. corporations, and the results can be both dramatic and immediate. By getting the company's technology team involved up front, as part of the overall strategy, you may learn that they are already developing solutions for these situations.

Sustainability has evolved to a juncture where it makes good economic sense for businesses to implement. It's easy to overlook the IT organization and the business technology components when developing a sustainability plan. 

Our dependence on technology to run the business causes us to assume that technology can be left out of a sustainability plan, because we have become so accustomed to the way technology has been used.

As part of the sustainability plan, companies should take control of the technology and improve efficiencies in these three areas. The return on investment is quick and can produce huge gains in overall cost reduction and environmental consciousness.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Arthur40A

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