IT’s not Easy Being Green

Kermit the frog could have landed a six figure job with Gartner Group when he predicted that “It’s not easy being green” way back in the 70’s, when the earth was supposedly cooling and a “data center” was the kitchen drawer where you kept your phone book and unopened mail. As the general green movement has gone mainstream, green-anything is in vogue. Ever-expanding data centers seem a prime target for “greening,” as powerful processors with massive cooling requirements suck up copious amounts of electricity. The IT industry, always quick to provide a technological solution or every problem is pointing to virtualization as the future of data centers, and recently has been emphasizing a virtual architecture’s green “street cred.” After all, consolidating machines will take less data center space and therefore less power and cooling.

While this is all well and good, I would caution companies looking to virtualization, water cooling or any of the more esoteric technologies as tools for greening up IT. The first danger is what I call the Prius Effect. Many supposedly environmentally minded individuals traded in their cars for an “environmentally friendly” Prius, ignoring the fact that its novel hybrid technology is made of (and from) an array of metals, toxic chemicals and other petroleum-based products with a presumably high environmental impact. Similarly, prematurely dumping existing IT infrastructure to acquire greener technology may end up being less green in the short and long runs, as the metals and manufacturing of PC-type products is certainly not known for being environmentally friendly.

The second caution before embarking on something as complex as a complete infrastructure overhaul in order to green up is that there are plenty of effective yet less glamorous ways to decrease the environmental impact of IT. There are technical solutions to shut down the thousands of workstations that are often left powered up when employees go home, or a simple note to employees suggesting they shutdown requires almost no cost, and can have a measurable impact on IT-related power consumption. Nearly every device sold in the last 10 years has power saving modes that are overlooked, and if a company is serious about going green, developing and implementing just such a power saving plan might be a fine (and inexpensive) task for a summer intern.


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