Everyone seems to be jumping on the green bandwagon, which is great for our environment, but how do we know when buying green is overkill?

“Green IT is an oxymoron," says Simon Mingay, an analyst with Gartner Research. "There’s no such thing, but with more efficient tools available, you will more than pay back any incremental costs.”

Studies show that businesses want to be energy efficient and that when it’s time to replace old equipment, whether it is a server or a desktop, IT managers make their replacement the energy efficient choice. However, most businesses do not replace a good system even if it is not energy efficient or if it still has many years left in its life cycle. Mingay agrees that you’re better off hanging on to the old equipment if it is reliable, and he says when it’s time to replace hardware “then making energy efficiency part of the buying criteria is absolutely critical.”

Businesses need to look at achieving energy efficiency in both their desktop and data center environments without compromising budgets and shrinking their return on investment.

Greening of the data centers

In the data center, many companies choose a virtualization solution, which may include integrating a software solution like VMWare with existing servers or may require buying larger servers to give power to the virtual machines. Energy efficiency can be achieved depending on how many servers there are. Consolidating servers is another green solution which reduces loads and ultimately saves costs. BDNA Corporation in Mountain View, Calif., helps companies save energy by using their GreenScan technology to run a server inventory. When the scan is complete it reveals how much power each server consumes, which determines the new server configuration. If new servers are necessary, then the scan takes into account the company’s current footprint and monitors the migration of the new location’s future equipment purchase.

Companies can deploy thin clients and use CPU power throttling for their high-end servers, where the servers throttle down during low use time and don’t waste power.

Data center solutions do require purchasing additional hardware and they do require more time to implement. Steve Brasen, analyst at Enterprise Management Associates recently conducted a green IT study which revealed that some data centers can’t reduce their power consumption since they need to be up and running 24/7. In reference to virtualization and hardware upgrades, Brasen says, “You should upgrade hardware because it’s time for more efficient computing, and not for just having an energy efficient solution. Choosing virtualization in order to go more green shouldn’t be the primary reason for deployment.”

Greening of the desktop area

In the desktop area, using power management tools such as turning off the machines at night, using spin down drives or hibernation tools lowers costs so companies don’t need to purchase new equipment. Brasen in the same green IT study found that when power management techniques were implemented in the desktop area, there was an average of 19 percent reduction in power. He also found that using laptops cost $23.26 in power consumption per year, versus desktops costing $149.10 per year. “So for 10,000 deployed desktops, which would consume 1.5 million in energy costs, and laptops, which cost $232,600, you could save $1.3 million annually,” he concludes.

”Going green is the great umbrella of social responsibility and reducing company cost,"

Avanish Sahai, vice president of BDNA marketing says. To achieve energy efficiency in the desktop area, "There’s simple stuff that can be done with dramatic effect. Get a policy with automated power management to turn off your computers and monitors and see a savings of 22 percent in IT costs.” Sahai adds that companies also need to educate their employees on how to use Windows’s hibernation controls and then set a policy and monitor it.

Mingay suggests companies check out Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool at EPEAT.net to find out which monitors, desktops, and notebooks are the best green choice as rated by the Energy Star 4.0 rating system.

Obstacles to green IT

The largest obstacle to implementing a green IT initiative is the budget and responsibility split between the facilities department, which handles the power budgets and the IT department. Sometimes a good green policy gets stuck waiting for the right data and implementation to make it happen. Ultimately, the CEO needs to provide the overall vision of green IT by implementing green governance, or corporate social responsibility bodies to oversee multiple projects across departments. Mark L. Cavaliero, CEO of SyTec Business Solutions in Raleigh, N.C., a network integrations firm, says he makes his green IT decisions by listening to his vendors, his clients, and his team of engineers. He also considers his budget. “We don’t like to waste anything and there’s also an economic incentive to help clients save money and to make our employees more productive," Cavaliero says. Regarding green IT, "It seems that the economic and benefits to society have lined up.”

Where green IT is headed

Brasen predicts virtualization will be the number one data center solution to achieve green IT over the next year and he also emphasized that the 19 percent average saved in the desktop area could be even greater. He states that opportunities do exist in both the data center and desktop area and that more companies will realize that you can reduce power consumption and produce ROI.

Implementing a green IT policy is no different from any other networking or security implementation. Both involve a thorough inventory of all hardware and software assets and both require the CEO to communicate policy and goals by example and leadership. Companies shouldn’t rush to buy green equipment without first checking the equipment’s agility first just as they shouldn’t implement an ad hoc green policy that doesn’t reach all areas of their organization. But by adopting power management strategies and replacing equipment nearing the end of its lifecycle with a more energy efficient models, companies can reap the benefits of sustainability, social responsibility and cost savings.