Companies in the US spend as much as 10 per cent of their total IT budgets on power and cooling, according to Gartner. Over the past year, virtually every IT publication has recommended ways to reduce energy consumption by migrating to green buildings and green data centres. Most articles focus on basic approaches, including virtualising servers, migrating to blade servers and cleaning up the space beneath the raised floor.

IT organisations can reduce energy costs in additional ways:

Raise corporate awareness of energy costs. Few people inside or outside the IT organisation understand the amount of energy consumed by IT systems. Garner support for energy reduction programmes by quantifying and communicating these energy costs.

Focus on total system energy. Power supplies, memory and monitors are all becoming more energy-efficient. Even cooling-fan impellers have been redesigned for more efficient air or liquid movement. In addition, an energy-efficient operating system helps minimise the total energy consumed and can automatically turn off unused components.

Model data centre power and cooling. New modelling tools from Aperture and APC recommend equipment placement that minimises power and air conditioning requirements. They use sensors that monitor actual power consumption and airflow to suggest additional improvements.

Consider utility rates when locating server centres. Google and HSBC are constructing new server centres to take advantage of hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls and Oregon’s Columbia River. Other companies are moving to Kentucky and Wyoming for lower-cost power.

Install modular, scalable uninterruptible power supplies. Older UPS systems are among the biggest power wasters in data centres, consuming more energy than the load requires. Newer systems reduce unnecessary energy consumption by enabling data centres to add capacity in much smaller increments, more closely matching consumption to actual load requirements.

Upgrade cooling. Cooling systems from Liebert and APC (in-row or closely coupled) reduce costs by capturing and neutralising hot air near its creation point. Data centres configured with hot and cold aisles reduce the amount of energy required for cooling.

Use energy-efficient lighting. An LED bulb consumes a quarter of an incandescent bulb’s electricity, without the harsh light of a florescent bulb. The cost of an LED is comparatively high, but the price is falling rapidly.

Reduce data volumes. Remind your staff to regularly purge unused files, remove duplicates and compress existing files. An enormous amount of disk space is taken up by the data detritus that accumulates over time. Investigate automatic archiving systems.

Take advantage of utility rebates and tax credits. In the US, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 expanded the business energy tax credit for solar and geothermal energy to include fuel cells, micro-turbines and hybrid solar lighting systems. In addition, some utility companies (in the US) offer rebates for reducing energy use, particularly during periods of heavy consumption, in order to delay construction of new power-generation facilities.

Follow guidelines of green associations. A number of US and EU groups, such as The Green Grid, promote green computing and green facilities. Investigate their recommendations.

Many companies are moving the responsibility for energy costs out of corporate budgets and into IT. But IT budgets are finite, and energy costs are on the rise. Reduce your energy costs so you won’t have to reduce your head count.

Perkins is managing partner at Leverage Partners, which helps organisations invest in IT. Contact him at [email protected].