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Power play: Green efficiency means more to CFOs than green IT

Just spent three informative days at the Uptime Institute's Symposium 2010 and am sorting through all the notes I took.I don't think it will surprise you to hear that one of the dominant, recurring themes in the sessions and keynotes was the ongoing disconnect between the need for IT teams to throttle power consumption and the very real fact that most of them don't actually control the electricity budget.

Just spent three informative days at the Uptime Institute's Symposium 2010 and am sorting through all the notes I took.

I don't think it will surprise you to hear that one of the dominant, recurring themes in the sessions and keynotes was the ongoing disconnect between the need for IT teams to throttle power consumption and the very real fact that most of them don't actually control the electricity budget. So, when you (they) propose conservation or energy efficiency ideas, these ideas sometimes fall on deaf ears. It's the old accountability thing. Deal with it.

The challenge is that some of the best things you can do to cut power consumption are under the control of the facilities manager. Albert Esser, founder and CEO of Albert Esser Consulting and former vice president of power and infrastructure solutions for Dell, says the best flavor of green IT is actually a philosophy of what he calls "total data center efficiency."

There are four sorts of activities (at least currently) that are relevant under this approach, Esser says. They include:

  1. Virtualization, which will be a short-term, one-time lift
  2. An acceleration of hardware refresh policies to take advantage of innovations in power efficiency
  3. Policies and investments that improve power distribution methods and reap the benefits of new cooling technology
  4. A move to include green efficiency and energy star requirements in every procurement process. If you don't do this, you could easily be leaving a potential improvement of 20 percent on the table, Esser says.

Trouble is, Esser says, many of these policies and processes aren't actually in the control of the IT department. "The CIO is made responsible for a lot of things," Esser says. "But some of the other factors in the total data center efficiency approach really aren't in his control."

Chances are, for example, that your company's chief financial officer has decided the age of the servers in your data center. If it is longer than three years, it is the IT team's job to calculate and demonstrate the efficiencies that could be gained. Ditto when it comes to client hardware. In the case of Dell, Esser says, embracing efficient enterprise initiatives helped drive approximately $85 million in savings. "If you don't focus on green efficiency, you will find yourself at a competitive disadvantage, Esser says.

Some perspective from the operations side of the house is well worthwhile, here, which is why I appreciated comments made on the same topic by Lauralee Martin, executive vice president and chief financial and operating officer for commercial real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle.

So, what do you need to do in order to get your message heard in the boardroom or "chief executive" suite? "The C suite is worried about one thing, and that is delivering results," she says.

Along these lines, Martin offers these tips for IT managers and CIOs who are looking to green IT initiatives to save money, reduce energy and MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, enable their companies to offer or support new services and products:

  1. Think about the ENTIRE lifecycle, including what happens at the end of life for certain equipment. Understand the costs involved. Martin estimates that for her company at least, IT assets represent half of the total corporate fixed assets. Data centers represent about half of that amount.
  2. Break down the siloes. Rather than focusing on storage impact or server impact or networking impact, look at them all together, you are leaving behind potential cost savings. "Risk happens in siloed approaches," Martin says. "Gaps occur."
  3. Help executives understand what questions to ask. Even if something isn't under your direct control, help the business side of your organization understand what is at stake if you DON'T make certain investments. But be specific, no CFO will pay attention to your problem if you haven't taken time to think about the solution.
  4. Talk about cost savings in the context of revenue. If you help cut the cost of power, for example, how will that help revenue per employee? What does it mean to your customers?
  5. Don't forget about innovation. For example, every company needs to accommodate mobility and remote access infrastructure in its cost equations. How can your cost savings on the power and energy efficiency side fund or enable the reality of mobility?

Just because your team might not be responsible for power consumption on paper, doesn't mean you shouldn't care. Collaboration on these matters will be key if your company hopes to benefit holistically from green efficiency.