12 ways to green your IT

Going green is a pretty simple idea, but actually has a lot of layers in businesses.  What motivates information technology (IT) management to go greener varies widely.  Some do it out of concern for the environment or to be a good example.  Many more have a bottom line motivation.  The cost of powering their data center has gone through the roof due to higher energy costs, greater density (more IT equipment in the same space), and the increasing need for even more computing capacity. 

So greener IT is great so long as performance needs are met, and it fits into some sort of reasonable cost parameters.  As I researched this article, the idea wasn't to come up with some grand strategy, but rather to focus on the easiest things first.  So here are some things IT managers could do right away, that involve little or no cost, using technology that is available today.

  • Look beyond the data center:  The data center uses more power per square inch than other parts of an organization, but to get a true picture you need to look at the entire ecosystem.  Look at desktop PCs, monitors, networking equipment, telephony and other communications, chargers, storage, servers, lighting, cooling equipment, and other devices that draw power even when they are not being used.
  • Buy Energy Smart / power-optimized laptops and desktopsEnergy Star-rated computers are a great way to go greener.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that they will save $103 per year in power.  Multiply that times the millions of computers in use today and you have a real environmental impact. 
  • Buy Energy Smart / power-optimized servers: A typical 50,000-square-foot data center gobbles 4 megawatts of power – the equivalent of 57 barrels of oil — every day.   And there are tens of thousands of them — accounting (according to the EPA) for 1.5% of all purchased electricity in the United States.  Energy Smart servers can consume up to 25% less energy with up to three times the performance per watt over previous generations.
  • Virtualize to consolidate and increase utilization:  Eliminate duplicate servers and software so you have fewer things to run, fewer things to power, and fewer things to cool.  Just on servers alone, a recent study showed that reducing the number of servers by 39% reduced power consumption by 42%.  And be sure to take action to move server utilization rates from the typical 5% and 10% of capacity to say 50%, which only increases power use by 2% per server. 
  • Virtualize your storage:  Storage arrays are among biggest power hogs in the data center.  Why?  Real-time access to data requires a lot of spinning hard drives, servers and networking.  Rationalize your storage to decrease the amount of equipment to power and cool, and increase utilization of what you have.  If you need help, use some simple services.
  • Raise the data center temperature:  Cooling accounts for a whopping 40% of the power use in a traditional data center, so any improvements here could have huge effects.  A recent study showed that raising the temperature in a data center five degrees decreased energy costs by 5%.  Of course, you still have to worry about hot spots, which bring us to the next point.
  • Focus in cooling the hot spots:  Flooding the entire room with cold air isn't the answer.  Most data centers waste at least 60% of the energy used to cool equipment.  IT equipment can run at higher temperatures, but you have to rethink cooling.  Use of targeted cooling and lower power air movers and chillers can address the hot spots and still increase the ambient room temperature.  Also think about simple things like vent tiles, containment strategies, and movement of IT equipment, which can be uncovered via an Energy Smart Assessment Service.
  • Recycle, don't throw equipment away:  According to Greenpeace, 4,000 tons of e-waste is created each hour.  Some companies offer take-back or recycling programs and are leading the way. Last year, Dell recovered 40,000 tons of unwanted equipment for recycling and has a goal to recover 275 million pounds of IT equipment by 2009.
  • Turn off unused equipment:  Approximately 65% of the energy costs are wasted because they are not turned off in the evening. Use equipment that is enabled for power management, so systems administrators can easily govern and monitor power management capabilities of all desktops and system monitors throughout the company.  According to Greener Computing, these toolkits can save an organization between $10 and $50 per PC annually.
  • Find the hidden data center in your data center:  Take into account your equipment, utilization rates, how equipment is cooled, and how these all can work together in a synergistic way. Develop a design that couples servers, storage, cooling, power delivery, virtualization and data center design to get the additive effects. Click here to see how you can use existing technology to deliver today a 97% increase in workloads within the same facility power envelope. 
  • Measure your power:  You can't measure what you can't monitor.  So be sure to use free tools to measure the power used by computers and to monitor use.  You can even compare different configurations of servers or client PCs.
  • Share bright ideas: There are three places you can share ideas with computer makers that can actually do something about greener IT:  Regeneration.org, Dell Design Regeneration, and IdeaStorm.   

I'd like to hear your ideas.  Share them here.

About the Author: Jeff S. Johnson