The Greening of IT: Cutting Power Consumption is Just the Beginning

It’s all-but-official: electrical power consumption is a big issue today and will be an even bigger issue tomorrow.

If recent research from Gartner Inc. is correct, System z general manager Stallings and other IBMers who have been touting a mainframe revitalization on the basis of surging power costs might soon look like soothsayers.

Gartner last week confirmed that electrical power consumption is a big issue today and will be an even bigger issue tomorrow. More to the point, Gartner researchers say, the power requirements on which today’s data center operations are premised are unsustainable.

“Financial and environmental pressures, compounded by legislative changes and increasing consumer awareness, are combining to force IT vendors and … CIOs … to take a closer look at the impact ‘green’ will have on their business,” said Gartner VP and distinguished analyst Steve Prentice, in a prepared release. “The IT industry must now look beyond the current power issue and pay greater attention to broader issues, such as limiting carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, using materials from renewable resources, recycling materials, and reusing heat from data centers.”

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—provided organizations seize the initiative, Gartner says. For one thing, Gartner researchers note, there’s a real opportunity here for enterprises to cut costs.

“These systems require considerably more power and cooling than the last generation of hardware. Because global energy prices are rising, there is a significant increase in data center operational budgets,” said Gartner research VP Rakesh Kumar, in a statement. “Most large enterprise IT organizations typically spend in the region of four to eight percent, in some cases 10 percent, of their total IT budgets on energy. But the twin factors of power-hungry hardware and rising energy costs could lead to this figure rising by up to four times within five years. This will put pressure on the CIO to act, and is placing power consumption high up the IT agenda.”

It isn’t just power, Gartner points out: storage devices, networking controllers, UPS, and—of course—data-center cooling (such as air conditioning) also contribute to the problem. Cooling, in particular, is an enormously expensive proposition. “[T]raditional data centers typically waste more than 60 percent of the energy they use to cool the equipment,” Kumar points out.

Consider the Entire Life Cycle

Thinking green means managing the complete life cycle of enterprise computing gear—from acquisition to retirement. According to Gartner research, enterprises and consumers will replace more than 800 million PCs worldwide over the next five years. An estimated 64 percent (or 512 million) will be disposed of, while nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of these will end up in landfill sites or stored, instead of being recycled.

This is bad policy, says Kumar. “This is bad for the environment and bad for business. Enlightened consumers and enterprise buyers will increasingly vote with their wallets, choosing more sustainable products and services from suppliers with environmentally conscious corporate social responsibility programs,” he argues.

A host of other greening issues will confront enterprise IT organizations and IT vendors alike over the next decade. For example, say Gartner researchers, there are a number of green legislative initiatives—such as the EU’s Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive scheduled to go into effect in January 2007 that, if approved, could impose strict regulations on the disposal of computing and other electrical gear. On top of this, Gartner says, the refresh cycle for IT hardware—such as servers, storage, and networking assets—is tightening, which means that IT organizations will have to dispose of outdated equipment at more frequent intervals.

The upshot, Gartner researchers say, is that IT must act—today. “If the IT industry does not act now to put in place tough greener measures, it will be destined to playing a continual game of catch-up with legislators that don’t understand the complexity of technology or the business implications of poorly considered clauses,” said Meike Escherich, a Gartner principal analyst.

As for the enterprise, Gartner analysts say CIOs should start by exploring both short- and long-term options to reduce power consumption.

“CIOs need to ask suppliers and service providers about their activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their broader environmental policies,” Kumar concludes. “Vendor programs are emerging that focus on IT environmental issues, and these should be embraced by IT organizations.”