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The green CIO: Four tips for eco-friendly companies

Many CIOs have committed themselves to reducing their organization's ecological footprint and moving toward being environmentally sustainable. The upside of eco-friendly companies isn't entirely selfless: There are some attractive ROI perks that go along for the ride. You save on electricity bills, become more efficient and decrease waste.

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Jonathan Hassell

Joining the ranks of eco-friendly companies isn't an easy journey to make, however. Here are some general considerations and suggestions as you navigate the world of green information technology.

  • Investigate the cloud. Leave no stone unturned in examining whether cloud-based computing is a suitable way to offload your current workloads. You've heard a lot about cloud-based computing before, surely, but it truly has evolved and matured into a good solution in a lot of eco-friendly companies. The most direct way to save on energy consumption, server investments and travel costs is to not have to pay them. Let someone else make those investments and incur those bills. By engaging cloud services, you could reduce your data center needs significantly, turn off and decommission a huge portion of your servers, and meet with employees around the globe with video conferencing and other collaborative tools. Unless you're in a hugely sensitive or highly regulated industry, there's little reason to run your email and collaboration software in-house anymore -- prices have come down so far, and uptime and reliability have stayed consistent. If you think you can beat such cloud-based computing providers as Amazon.com, Google and Microsoft, you're almost kidding yourself. And there's room to move other services to the cloud as well: public-facing websites and internal development work, for example.

Be prudent fiscally and demand a positive ROI. Don't "go green" simply for the sake of it.

  • Turn off energy-hogging computers and peripherals. So much advice around green IT focuses on the data center and the huge pots of money paid out to build power-smart buildings, data centers with a zero carbon footprint, and other things that seem very grand in scale. Forgotten, however, are the thousands of desktops, monitors and printers that are like leeches on your electricity bill -- always on and ready to serve, but costing real money to be at that ready state. Save on electricity bills by using management software that sets power policies for sleeping and resuming systems and printers. Many common Windows enterprise management systems, for instance, are capable of this. Just having devices off from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., for example -- unless they're actively being used -- can save a ton of money right out of the gate.
  • Focus on green IT initiatives that could produce new revenue. After the low-hanging fruit has been picked (which, if you're a savvy CIO, you've probably done already), consider longer-term initiatives. These projects typically require some capital expenditure. They're not all about cost reduction and improving efficiency, but the investments can pay for themselves over time -- if you consider the additional revenue and business such investments could bring in. For example, it could be a wise move to build an environmentally sustainable data center larger than what your company requires, one with facilities for smart grids, water cooling, freight-container pods and so on. Then you could rent out the extra space to other companies in search of smart, efficient data centers. Your company does take on some P&L risk, but over time you'll experience the benefits of efficiency of scale at a very low cost. Consider new energy investments, data center plant space, server purchases and storage hardware investments: They make sense and also could be offered externally on the allure of the efficiencies they offer.

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  • Beware the power of distraction. Sometimes political winds, the overall narrative of a country, or even your own marketing and public relations departments can glom onto a meme. We do so with such surprisingly effective force that you feel you're on the back foot and reacting just because something sounds good. Green IT is a direct hit on that predilection. An energy company, for example, might be paying twice as much for post-consumer drinking cups that don't directly benefit the environment very much. The same applies to IT initiatives: Trying to save on electricity bills by cutting power to some server farms could cause other servers to work harder and consume even more energy -- while reducing their useful life or causing additional new capacity to be brought online. Have you really benefitted anyone? Are you wondering whether you can launch a wind farm to power a data center? Are you prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to prove you can save on electricity bills? Be prudent fiscally and demand a positive ROI. Don't "go green" simply for the sake of it, because the world is full of unintended consequences.

What other advice do you have from the trenches? Has your IT organization gone green? What are your sustainable ideas?

Jonathan Hassell is president of 82 Ventures Inc. He's an author, consultant and speaker in Charlotte, N.C. His books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windowsand most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual. Write to him at editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.

This was first published in July 2012

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