IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Green IT Strategies to Implement Now

Helping clients go green reduces their carbon footprint and puts money on their bottom line. By James E. Gaskin

Green IT Strategies to Implement Now

Helping clients go green reduces their carbon footprint and puts money on their bottom line.

By James E. Gaskin

Technology has become the modern energy hog, sucking up from 20 to 70 percent of the energy used in office buildings. Already 10 percent of the typical cost of IT for a company, energy costs continue to rise. And, 30 to 60 percent of the electricity used by server rooms is wasted. The time for green IT has come.

Surveys done by Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based CompTIA in 2009 point out two interesting but predictable trends: Two-thirds of companies say green IT is a mid- to high-level priority for them. That leads to the second trend: Two-thirds of resellers say green IT became more important in 2009 than it was in 2008. So if customers say green IT is more important to them, resellers will say green IT is high on their priority lists as well. As a bonus, many of the green IT practices can help both resellers and their customers save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

The most important aspect of green IT is the affect it has on corporate wallets. In fact, saving energy is the leading reason why companies go green. Saving energy equals saving money, and resellers and customers alike have the same goal.

LCD monitors use a third to half as much energy as CRT monitors, and create less heat. So upgrading to modern monitors was a green IT move, whether companies knew it or not.

The value of server virtualization, condensing multiple physical servers down to one physical server running multiple virtual servers, has made headlines for years. Yet only about 20 percent of servers that could be virtualized have been, and that number focuses on large enterprises. The “green field” for server virtualization in small and midsize businesses remains huge.

To help customers consider server virtualization, take inventory. Find all the zombie servers that are still running but not doing any work, and turn those off (see “Slaying Zombie Servers,” April issue).

While condensing a half-dozen physical servers down to one certainly helps, some companies are pushing much harder. Chris Drake is the CEO and founder of Firehost Inc., a firm focused on secure Web hosting in the Dallas area. “We have completely dropped our dedicated server hosting product line,” says Drake. “I don’t think you can call yourself green if you still have dedicated servers.”

Drake admits some customers were upset, but feels this step is critical. “IDC said there were over 20 million underutilized servers in 2007. With today’s new server architecture, I up the cost two times on a new server, and support 24 virtual servers, making the cost worth it.” He buys the fastest CPUs he can get, and loads the server with 48GB of RAM.

FireHost works with Dell servers running VMware exclusively. “We went from six 48U racks down to one and a half racks,” says Drake. The space savings means more than just more room in the data center. “We’re building a new data center, and we’ve downgraded our plans from a 25,000-square-foot facility down to 5,000 square feet. Our cooling cost is far lower because we cool only the racks, not the entire data center.”

On the back end, the e-waste savings are even greater. “We used to get rid of 50 servers per quarter, and now we retire only two or three,” says Drake. “That’s a huge difference in disposing of the toxins in servers, like batteries.”

Drake emphasizes security and service at FireHost, and the new virtualization foundation makes both easier. “We save labor and man-hours by doing all the provisioning with a right click, and set up new virtual servers when needed.”

Pat Tiernan, executive director of the nonprofit group Climate Savers Computing Initiative, agrees that server virtualization and data center issues are important. But he says by focusing there we miss a bigger problem: PCs. “Data centers account for 23 percent of CO2 emissions, but PCs account for 40 percent,” says Tiernan. In fact, PCs waste electricity to the tune of 54 million tons of CO2 per year, about the same as 11 million cars.

Founded by Google, Intel, and the World Wildlife Federation, Portland, Ore.-based Climate Savers encourages companies to reduce wasted energy and save money. More than 500 companies, small and large, have signed up to focus on the energy efficiency of PC equipment

“Most PCs waste half their energy,” says Tiernan. “Energy Star, the government rating, is the lowest level of savings, and those computers still waste 40 percent. The PCs we’ve certified are 90 percent efficient. We’re trying to shift the user base to more efficient equipment.” An older Pentium PC may use a kilowatt of electricity per year, but a new dual core CPU with power management will only use around 230 watts. Smaller form factors, like laptops or thin clients, will save even more.

But first, the number one lesson is to activate power management settings on PCs. “Proper energy management will save you from $40 to $100 per PC per year,” says Tiernan. “Even better, some utilities will compensate companies for the cost of software power management.”

To start, you can download Edison, a free software tool from Seattle-based Verdiem Corp. on the Climate Savers Web site or on the Verdiem corporate site. This energy monitoring application enables consumers to more actively control their PC’s energy consumption.

Adding power management doesn’t cause a burden even for smaller companies. “The savings arguments are pretty effective,” says Tiernan. “Besides Verdiem’s Edison, try Verismic, BigFix, and Symantec.” Others to check include 1e and Faronics.

To snare college students, Climate Savers has a companion program and Web site called Power Down for the Planet. If college students enabled power-saving features on their PCs, they would save 2.3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, worth over $200 million, and reduce the same amount of CO2 as taking 350,000 cars off the road.

Richard Hodges, founder and CEO of the Sonoma, Calif., consulting group GreenIT, prefers to recast the green argument as a push for sustainability. Starting about six years ago, technology-only programs, like server and desktop virtualization and energy management, are what Hodges considers “low hanging fruit.” He approaches IT like the LEED certification approaches buildings. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design provides standards for buildings throughout the design, construction, and operation phases.

“Take LCD monitors” says Hodges. “They’re three times more efficient than older CRT monitors, but if you put three on your desk, your total power consumption stays close to the same.”

“Everything you do for green will save you money,” says Hodges. “Look for efficiencies with power, IT, and people resources. Look beyond just the technology to telework, reducing business travel, more efficient supply chains, and less paper use.”

The ever-elusive paperless office can save energy and money across multiple areas. Less printing means less paper and fewer printers running 24 hours a day. Less paper means fewer filing cabinets and storage, leading to smaller and less expensive office space requirements. And less paper consumption is always greener, no matter how carefully you recycle your paper. “In some companies, 50 percent of their office space is devoted to storing paper,” says Hodges.

Another green IT direction is desktop virtualization. “We went through server virtualization and found most ran at 10 percent utilization or less,” says Barb Goldworm, president and chief analyst at Focus LLC. “Desktops are often completely underutilized.”

VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), sometimes called client virtualization, runs a virtualized desktop image on a remote central server rather than local hardware. Microsoft Remote Desktop Services, Citrix XenDesktop, and VMware View lead the market, with plenty of other companies offering comparable products.

“There are traditional thin clients with a CPU and some processing power, and newer zero clients with no processing,” says Goldworm. Many companies start a VDI project by using existing desktop clients. “Almost anything can be a client now, including iPhones and iPads.”

Randy Olsson, vice president of engineering for Orlando, Fla.-based Coleman Technologies Inc., (now part of Presidio), implemented 450 virtual desktops for a national exam company. The goal was not to replace PCs with thin clients, but rather to support a growing company with the fewest servers and IT techs possible. Savings of a million dollars in operations expenses per year didn’t hurt, either.

“The company is now 100 percent VDI,” says Olsson. “We reduced initial costs by keeping existing PCs, and some of the PCs are now about 10 years old. But with the VMware client software, everyone gets the same performance from what the customer calls their private cloud.”

On the back end, multiple servers gave way to three server racks, each half full. One holds Liebert power and cooling equipment, one holds a NetApp storage area network, and the third holds Cisco UCS servers running VMware through Cisco Nexus switches. Three blade servers support 450 desktops, and the company can expand to 1,000 desktops without adding another rack.

Two IT personnel manage the back end. If the company expands to 1,000 users, only four IT techs will be needed. Cisco EnergyWise software turns off Nexus switch ports when no user is on the far end.

“As the customer acquires new companies, the transition is simple,” says Olsson. “We don’t know what client equipment we’ll inherit, but the thin client model makes it easy to roll out.” New employees will get thin client hardware, as will those users with old PC hardware that finally fails.

“All the data stays in the data center,” says Olsson. “We’re now talking to other customers with as few as 100 users about desktop virtualization.”

Following Hodges’ advice, look across the entire IT lifecycle for opportunities to save money. Check Climate Savers for the most efficient new hardware. Implement desktop power management on an individual or network basis.

You can start small. Help your customers turn off computers when they’re not in use, and you’re on the way.

JAMES E. GASKIN is a freelance writer and former reseller based in Mesquite, Texas.

About the Author

James E. Gaskin's picture

JAMES E. GASKIN is a ChannelPro contributing editor and former reseller based in Dallas.

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