Five ways to make your IT go green (and win new customers)

If you are the IT operations manager for a small or medium sized enterprise, then you may not yet have been asked about the energy costs and environmental impact of your business unit. But the chances are that you soon will be. A survey of IT managers found that whilst two thirds of them did not have a commitment in place to develop green storage plans, two thirds of those without a plan expected to have one within five years and one third within two years.

Drivers of green IT

There are a number of significant drivers of green IT, including government legislation, cost savings, and customer demand. The most compelling driver is compliance with government green legislation. In the UK, the government’s Carbon Plan aim of achieving eighty per cent cuts in greenhouse emissions by 2050, means a reduction in energy use per capita of between twenty and fifty per cent from today’s levels. To get there the government has imposed a new compliance regime across industry, business and the public sector.

The CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme is a mandatory reporting and pricing scheme designed to incentivise energy efficiency and cut emissions from large energy users in the public and private sectors across the UK, representing around ten per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Participants include supermarkets, water companies, banks, local authorities, and all central government departments.

As an IT Manager in an SME, you might think that you don’t need to worry about the impact of the CRC Scheme. You don’t directly, but it is very likely that some of your bigger customers or prospects, particularly those in the public sector, will. Organisations that fall within the CRC are required to monitor and report their energy use annually to the Environment Agency, which then charges them an allowance for every tonne of carbon they emit.

So if you are looking to do business with supermarkets, water companies, banks, or public sector bodies then you need to pay attention to the energy costs of the hardware or services that you are supplying to them, as these will impact on their CRC reporting requirements. This is one of the main reasons why you will be asked about your own environmental management plan if you are tendering for work with such organisations.

The second driver of green IT, for you and your customers, is of course the rapidly rising cost of energy to power your devices and networks. Even after the recent price falls in the cost of oil and gas, energy prices have still more than doubled since 2004. Any immediate price relief for business is likely to be temporary, as we continue to switch to more expensive sources of electricity, such as nuclear and wind, and governments continue to levy climate change taxes in order to drive usage down.

Components of a green IT strategy

So, if all of the drivers of green IT remain in place, reducing costs, complying with green legislation, and helping to win new customers, then what can you do when you are asked as an IT business unit to reduce your energy costs and your environmental impact?

Here are five key ways to reduce both costs and environmental impact:

Server virtualisation

This is the partitioning of a physical server into smaller virtual servers to help maximise your server resources. The resources of the server itself are masked, and software is used to divide the physical server into multiple virtual environments, instead of dedicating one server to a single application or task. Server virtualisation reduces costs because less hardware is required, and it maximises the use of resources through the use of fewer servers, saving both space and energy costs.

Utilising green data centres

Those situated in Iceland offer particular energy benefits. Firstly, the very cold climate there offers unique opportunity for the use of free natural cooling technology. Secondly, Iceland produces one hundred per cent of its energy from renewable thermal and hydroelectric sources. This means the energy used for the data centre is clean, cheap, and reliable. The distance to Iceland does produce a latency delay, but only of milliseconds, which means that there is almost no impact on most applications.

Use more energy efficient devices

And then optimise the energy management settings on them. Laptops can also be used as an energy efficient replacement for desktop PCs. All modern devices have energy management settings such as hibernate and sleep mode that should be fully utilised on setup.

Consider the non-IT energy usage in your office environment

Installing modern LED lighting can now match your current specifications, but with a reduction of up to ninety per cent in the use of energy. With such a saving, the extra cost of LED bulbs will be paid back very quickly.

An excellent document management system

Which can manage and store what would otherwise be held as paper documents. Even in our digital world, there are many enterprises that still use paper for billing, accounts, shipping, customs and other transactions for which there are compliance demands and audit requirements. These documents often need to be kept for several years and require large amounts of physical storage space as well as vast amounts of paper, both of which are environmentally expensive.

Shalen Sehgal, Green Champion at Transputec