When does green technology move from feelgood marketing-speak to something more actionable? When it turns into the kind of green that feels good in your wallet.

For IT professionals with static or shrinking budgets, green technology ultimately means energy efficiency, reduced power consumption and reduced costs. Today's technologies such as virtualisation, storage optimisation, Energy Star-qualified products and power management solutions, among others, have the potential to reduce energy use immediately, without waiting for the dreaded long term return on investment (ROI).

According to CDW's 2009 Energy Efficient IT Report, 52% of organisations actively working to reduce energy consumption reduced their IT energy costs by 1% or more. Depending on the size of the enterprise, that 1% could translate into big savings.

By implementing all available energy saving measures company-wide, business IT professionals believe they could reduce IT energy costs by an average of 17%, which translates into $900,000 worth of savings for for the standard enterprise, according to the report.

What's working?

There is no single silver bullet when it comes to energy efficiency. While most organisations care about reducing energy consumption and acknowledge the opportunity for significant savings, success comes only with sharp, persistent focus on energy-efficiency opportunities throughout the IT environment.

The report found that IT executives responsible for the IT energy bill tend to take the longer term view and are twice as likely to place high importance on energy efficiency in the purchasing process as executives who do not own the IT energy bill. At successful organisations, management and IT make energy efficiency a shared priority via three tactics – they ask, assign and incent:

  • Ask IT to Manage: Organisations that asked their IT department to reduce energy costs have seen significant results – 57% reduced costs by 1% or more vs. just 39% of organisations that did not ask IT to make a change.

  • Assign IT Responsibility: 60% of organisations in which IT is responsible for the amount and cost of energy used in IT operations have taken specific action to reduce energy consumption, compared to 24% of organisations without IT accountability.

  • Incent IT Success: Organisations in which the IT department is incented to improve IT energy efficiency are more likely to make energy reduction a priority – 58% vs. just 30% of those who are not incented.

Additionally, the report found that respondents also reduced energy costs by focusing on energy efficiency in the purchase and management of IT equipment, employing measures including:

  • Buying equipment with low-power/low-wattage processors and multiple cores
  • Using network-based power management tools
  • Using software tools within uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to monitor power demand and energy use
  • Monitoring data centres remotely to keep lights off when employees are not on site
  • Managing cable placement to reduce demand on cooling systems
  • Implementing server and storage virtualisation to reduce the number of servers and storage devices drawing power

What's keeping everyone from harnessing energy efficiency? The short answer is... not much. New technologies, improved solutions and added incentives have enabled IT professionals to harness the power of energy efficiency.

A couple of years ago, IT professionals hoped for clear industry standards for energy efficient equipment in the data center. Now, it appears that both industry and government have stepped up to the plate with information about what constitutes energy efficient IT equipment, enabling IT managers to make more-informed purchase decisions. In the report, 83% of respondents said energy efficient products are becoming easier to identify, and almost all said the Energy Star label is very important for identifying energy efficient products.

In fact, although the federal government's Energy Star standard for servers was just three months old when CDW executed the 2009 Energy Efficient IT survey, two-thirds of executives with server procurement responsibility said they were familiar with the standard, and more than 90% said their next server purchase would likely be an Energy Star-qualified product. Further, 92% of respondents with access to utility rebates said they have become a significant incentive for investment in energy efficient IT.

Another great green tool is virtualisation. Although some companies still have reservations about the technology, according to another CDW study, most of those concerns evaporate upon adoption and virtualisation can reduce server energy costs by as much as 80%.

Recommendations

So, you're ready to capture the benefits of energy efficient technologies? Here's how:

  • Make the commitment: Implement organisation-wide IT energy guidelines. Assign roles and responsibilities, and provide the tools to monitor and improve IT energy efficiency.

  • Procure with care: IT equipment manufacturers are constantly improving energy efficiency, so actively look for low-power/low-wattage devices that meet your performance requirements. You may be surprised how quickly they pay for themselves.

  • Start simple: Activate the power management options embedded in PC and server operating systems, train employees in best energy practices like turning off their computers, and using the monitoring tools in "smart UPS" systems.

  • Assess energy use: Identify and quantify all of your opportunities to reduce IT energy use, and prioritise them by cost/benefit for action.

  • Improve data center efficiency: Organisations can reduce data centre energy use by 10% to 45% or more with smart designs based on optimised servers and storage, thermal assessment and the latest rack-based cooling systems.

  • Virtualise as much as possible: Assess your infrastructure from desktop to data centre and look to a number of virtualisation technologies available today to reduce your system's footprint, reducing both power and cooling requirements:

    Servers – Probably the most common of all virtualisation platforms, server virtualisation can reduce the number of physical servers, racks, switches and cabling, lowering power consumption accordingly. A typical physical server draws 500 to 600 watts of power and consumes roughly 5,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year if run continuously. Eliminating just one server, therefore, can save hundreds of dollars per year on the energy bill alone. On average, customers seem to be running 20 to 30 servers per virtualisation host, making it an easy decision to be green.

    Desktops – Hosting desktop computers and applications centrally in a data centre and removing hard drives from employee desks can greatly reduce power consumption. Although there are a number of technologies to virtualise applications and desktops, it's possible to have 30 to 75 sessions running on a single server, which results in a significant power reduction at every desk

  • Consolidate the data centre: Most organisations cannot virtualise everything in the data centre. However, consolidating multiple database servers and network switches can result in a smaller physical footprint, ultimately boosting energy efficiency.

  • Take the old offline: Develop a storage strategy, archiving old and rarely accessed data and eliminating duplicate data. As a result, organisations can reduce the number of storage devices, cutting energy consumption.