Grow a green business: Cut costs and improve energy efficiency with green IT

In an effort to help companies reduce their carbon footprint, author and green IT expert John Lamb explains how organizations can improve business flexibility while reducing environmental impact with numerous energy-saving solutions such as virtualization and server consolidation in his new green IT reference book. The book offers solutions for organizational obstacles and emphasizes how organizations looking to save money should not pass up this opportunity to save money and energy simaltaneously.

In his new book, The Greening of IT: How Companies Can Make a Difference for the Environment, green IT expert John Lamb informs enterprise and IT leaders how to cut costs and expand their businesses by reducing energy use within data centers and IT infrastructure.

While some companies have abandoned investment in energy efficiency due to the recent economic slump, Lamb explains how improvements in energy management could potentially save up to 50% in energy costs. To help businesses and IT leaders begin their green IT initiative, Lamb addresses the challenges businesses may face and offers energy-saving solutions. A free download of Chapter 1 of The Greening of IT, "The Importance of Green IT," is available for review.


Chapter 1 states many companies talk about reducing their total energy requirements, but are not actually going green where it counts. Why do you think this is true, and how can your book cause them to take action?
John Lamb: Certainly the recent economic crunch has had an affect on companies investing in energy efficiency through green IT. Any companys' energy efficiency projects, even those that produce quick and easy payback, are undergoing a great deal of scrutiny. However, for data centers the cost saving incentives are so great that companies have a lot of financial motivation to go green. With those cost savings, there is usually little need for an organization to exaggerate how environmentally friendly they are.

A typical US data center of 25,000 square feet will use approximately $2.6 million in energy costs per year at $0.12 per kWh. Improvements in energy management can save up to 50% of those costs, leaving over a million dollars in savings to motivate interest in changing. I believe all companies are becoming serious about reducing energy through green IT. When green IT first took off, there was some greenwashing, but the market has been brutal on any claims made by vendors which didn't generate true energy savings or demonstrate quantifiable results.

More on this book
Title: The Greening of IT: How Companies Can Make a Difference for the Environment

Author: John Lamb

Publisher: IBM Press

Copyright: © 2009 International Business Machines Corporation
The theme of, "The Greening of IT: How Companies Can Make a Difference for the Environment," is perceivably that by reducing energy use, companies can benefit economically. Is your goal to primarily cut costs, or to help the environment?
J.L.: I believe most companies do feel a corporate responsibility to help the environment. However, the best motivator to get started -- whether it's a company or an individual -- is to show the economic benefits of reducing energy use. Let's face it, if a company or individual can be shown methods to cut energy use and save money by following best practices, that's always a great motivator. If a company can be shown that along with cost savings the company is also helping the environment, then we have a real "win-win" scenario.

So, to answer your question, the primary goal should be to cut costs through energy efficiency. That goal will automatically lead to the end-result of helping the environment.

Throughout the book, you emphasize the need for collaboration, among both competing vendors and with energy utilities and the government. Why is this so important?
J.L.: Collaboration is key for green IT worldwide. Almost every industry organization and many government bodies are involved. These organizations include the IEEE, ASHRAE, EPA, SPEC, LEED, DOE, EU, NYSERDA, NYSgrid, The Green Grid, and dozens of others. This has resulted in sometimes overlapping energy efficiency metrics.

However, this varied work will converge on a few accepted standards for green IT metrics. These metrics will be the standards sanctioned by government organizations such as the EPA. With governments getting more into energy and the environment, public policy will accelerate many of the programs in place today. With both competition and collaboration in play, improvements will continue to be rapid. Governments and other organizations will need to establish standards so these innovative products from many companies can work together.

The phrase, "You can't manage what you can't measure". Can you explain what you mean by this?
J.L.: We need energy measurements of the current situation in order to establish baselines. The adage "you can't manage what you can't measure" is always true. Because accountability for energy costs is spread across many departments within an organization, the first step is to determine where your energy costs are and then put a plan in place to address how to improve them.

Energy saving technologies such as server and data storage virtualization can produce a 50% energy savings for new equipment in any data center. But we must first measure what our energy costs are and where they occur. Then we can manage the savings based on energy efficiency projects.

You say that enterprises can reduce total energy requirements through fairly straightforward improvements that don't take years to implement or to show returns. What are some examples of these improvements?
J.L.: A very straightforward improvement and probably the most significant improvement data center management can make is to use the standard server refresh policy -- which is typically every four years -- to move to virtual servers. Virtual data storage follows.

The book includes case studies of organizations implementing green data concerns and best practices for applying green IT. Could you give an example of a case study along with the findings?
J.L.: The Lexington, KY case study in Chapter 10 describes a large data center that had many problems. This corporate data center case study should give valuable lessons learned for improving the energy efficiency of any large legacy data center. This data center, originally at 61,000 square feet and bursting at the seams, is far larger than any of the data centers I've worked on and should give encouragement to any IT group looking at creating a green data center out of a very large data center that might appear to be "beyond repair".

In this case study, the IT team was able to manage the requirements for significant IT growth in the data center by conserving electricity, adding power and denser equipment to effectively gain space, virtualizing the environment to require fewer servers by increasing server utilization, more accurately measuring the facility's resources, and improving cooling by redirection of air flow.

There was no one technology that solved the problem of the explosive growth at this data center -- it was the sum of the many individual technologies.

One chapter includes a survey of emerging technologies for server and storage enhancement to reduce data center energy use. What do you think is the best emerging technology, and why?
J.L.: Two emerging technologies that intrigue me are the use of fuel cells to power data centers and the use of private cloud computing for the ultimate in server and data storage virtualization.

Fuel cells are not new -- they powered the space capsules that carried men to the moon. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are very environmentally desirable since the only output, in addition to energy, is water. The problem is in obtaining the hydrogen. Currently hydrogen is usually produced through a very energy-intensive process using natural gas and immense amounts of electricity. When technological breakthroughs allow us to produce hydrogen efficiently, then fuel cells for data center energy will be a significant step forward.

Cloud computing allows companies to move to virtualization of all computing systems and to very high levels of utilization. Cloud computing -- both public and private -- is evolving quickly and is already having an impact on green IT.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erin Kelly is an editorial assistant at TechTarget. Erin is a Northeastern coop student who will be working at the company until the end of June. She supports the Data Center and Virtualization and Security media groups through a variety of editorial duties. Erin studies journalism and writes for the Huntington News, an independent print and online paper produced by Northeastern students. You can contact her at ekelly@techtarget.com.

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