We’ve heard so much about green IT initiatives recently you'd be forgiven for thinking that everybody had this under control. You might be surprised to learn that storage vendor ONStor found that 58 per cent of the companies they surveyed were either still talking about what they were going to do, or still have no plans as yet to do anything.
Green IT hasn't had the headline profiles of recycling carrier bags, or not using your car, but the fact is that IT is a major contributor to CO2 emissions. The UK's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) estimated last October that the UK’s PCs and servers were already consuming 14 per cent more power than the entire power consumption of Luxembourg, and of course the figure is still rising.
All this power is also costing businesses dearly. IDC's John Humphreys, for example, estimates that power, cooling and other operational costs account for 70 per cent of a server’s lifetime cost. Yet all too frequently this has not been taken into account when servers were bought.
The penny is dropping though. A study by Sun Microsystems showed that since the first quarter of 2006 more than three-quarters of executives involved in buying decisions for data-centre equipment in enterprises have prioritised energy efficiency; although 63 per cent admitted they didn't know what their energy costs or carbon emission rates were.
Sun is one of the companies walking the walk, announcing in August that it had just completed a consolidation of one of its data centres which had seen 5,000 old servers, network switches and storage devices being switched off. ONStor's Bob Miller says: 'Whilst the vendors appear to be taking this issue seriously the overall end user community is some way behind.'
So what encourages end users to do something about this? Well according to OnStor's survey 48 per cent of organisations felt that a drying up of energy supply would drive a reduction in power consumption at their data centres; while higher power bills were driving business decisions in 66 per cent of companies.
'Ultimately, if energy costs continue to rise, more businesses will be forced to look at this by their shareholders. Longer term we can also expect regulators and governments to use big sticks to drive better efficiency in the name of environmental protection,' notes Simon Sherrington, founder of Innovation Observatory, a company that specialises in tracking opportunities in green technology markets.
A central plank of green IT is server consolidation. According to OnStor's statistics, 55 per cent of respondents stated that storage consolidation would be a central element of their green policy. While an even more upbeat Gartner survey found that 92 per cent of respondents had a data centre consolidation planned for, in progress or completed.
Storage consolidation is really important, although equally essential to reducing energy consumption is ensuring companies have streamlined their applications and data. Duplicated data and applications is a major problem in many organisations and these cause a range of operational inefficiencies, including demand for more storage space.
Most companies know that at the data and applications levels they are far from efficient, but the problem has been that the risk, cost and time to consolidate applications has put them off.
Celona recently conducted a survey amongst telecoms executives and 59 per cent said they'd been so discouraged by an application migration that they decided not to go ahead with it. The new-generation of migration technology overcomes these problems, making the long-awaited benefits of application consolidation a reality.
Many vendors have cottoned on to the fact that there is a sea change in the air, and this is not the oceanic smell of green altruism - there is a distinct whiff of hard business reality about it.
'Environmental sentiment is all well and good, and it helps that environmental issues currently enjoy a high media profile, but few companies have the financial freedom to go green overnight,' says Simon Sherrington.
'They simply can't justify decommissioning equipment unless there is a clear cost benefit in terms of saved opex, or unless the kit is becoming obsolete anyway. That is why companies with comparatively high energy costs, and companies in markets with high rates of technology obsolescence, have been swifter out of the blocks than peers in other industry sectors.'
BT is just such a company, being a major energy consumer and operating in a highly competitive market. It has already cut its carbon emissions by 60 per cent since 1996, saving more than one million tonnes of CO2 per annum. This drive extends from data centres to applications-level consolidation.
BT's One IT consolidation project, and similar projects in other large operators, is all about delivering business benefits. There are huge opportunities within large Telco's to consolidate IT infrastructure and thereby enhance efficiency, which should deliver the ability to bring new services to market more quickly, but also savings in terms of both cash and carbon.
This point is underlined by BT's Steve O'Donnell who comments that to date One IT has enabled BT to decommission and consolidate over 1000 racks of servers, resulting in a net saving of 22GW hours per year. 'We calculate this translates to a cost saving of just under £1.8 million per annum or around 3,110 metric tonnes of carbon per year,' says O'Donnell.
BT is using its supply chain to drive change by incorporating environmental and efficiency goals into its procurement process. It expects suppliers to work to reduce the energy consumption and impact of each new generation of products or services, and this will become a mandatory criterion in all tender adjudication.
Donna Young, BT's head of climate change, notes that the extended supply chain is a powerful force for positive change. 'About three years ago our large business customers started coming to us and asking about our carbon status. They understand the need to drive efficiency down their own supply chains. The power of the supply chain, and of competition, to drive this sort of change should not be underestimated.