Feature

How to measure the value of a green IT infrastructure

Although "green" has slid down the list of priorities during the recession, it has not disappeared completely. The advent of government-driven green initiatives, such as the CRC EES in the UK, mean that several thousand UK organisations are now having to monitor and measure their energy usage at a granular level to plan to maximise the financial gains (or minimise the financial losses) through their positions in the CRC league tables. Also, green initiatives can have a distinct value to the business through immediate savings such as lower energy usage that can be beneficial to the bottom line.

From an IT perspective, Quocirca breaks green initiatives down into three distinct areas

  • Standard green - concentrating on quick wins, such as application rationalisation, leading to asset consolidation onto a virtualised environment, saving energy in the long term
  • Advanced green - looking at changing the way IT is operated to give further savings, such as a move to internal cloud computing and/or blade computing
  • Investment green - a longer-term view, where there is less chance of a direct payback on the investment, but where the capabilities for pushing green credentials as part of the business' brand can resonate with the target customers. Here, such technologies as regenerative power, heat recycling and alternative power supplies come to the fore.

Each area has its own part to play - but taking a total value proposition approach to how green IT can help a business can make arguing for a given project far easier.

Actions and outcomes

When we look at the impact green IT initiatives have on a business, it can be difficult to align the action directly with the outcome. For example, cutting down on energy costs makes it possible that investments can be made elsewhere, but that is a purely monetary argument - not a technological one.

However, by using standard green initiatives, the reduction in IT assets will make for a far more flexible IT platform, based on fewer IT assets with a greater capability to share resources. Therefore, the business can benefit from being able to have an 'elastic' IT platform - one where peaks and troughs in workloads can be more easily managed - making the business more responsive to the markets.

With greater awareness within the customer base that profligacy with energy is a bad thing, a move towards greener IT is also something that can be played strongly through the company brand. Being able to convert savings into amounts the customer can understand can have a big impact and can tip the scales in the favour of the greener organisation if messaged correctly.

For instance it is unlikely that a customer will be swayed by the statement: "We managed to reduce our datacentre cooling overhead by 120,000BTU and our direct energy usage by 3.2MWhs", but "Our green initiatives have led to savings equivalent to the energy used by 20,000 UK homes, 100,000 heated Olympic-sized swimming pools or 3,500 return transatlantic flights" might have the desired effect.

Resilience

From a risk point of view, a greener datacentre can be far more resilient - a virtual environment provides much greater capabilities for moving images around if there is any failure in one particular part of the platform. However, this will need specific tools - otherwise, the consolidation down to a much smaller number of physical devices can lead in the other direction - to where the failure of a single item can lead to extended downtime for a large part of the infrastructure.

This can be the case where, for example, cooling is cut down to a single unit - if this fails, the datacentre will have to be shut down. Resilience still needs equipment redundancy - but the equipment may not need to be turned on at all times.

Within the IT platform itself, having fewer physical assets means that fewer human resources will be needed to manage them, and problems will be easier to identify where the root cause is, and there will be less actual hardware failures - even if the percentage failure rate stays the same. Therefore, less time will be spent in replacing failed components or assemblages, but the caveat remains that if consolidation is taken too far, a failure can lead to a loss of overall platform resilience.

At a cost level, the capital costs of going green do have to be considered against the savings that will be made. However, the optimisation of energy usage is a major saving, particularly with the predicted upwards but not linear trend in prices. Also, less hardware will be required, leading to fewer software licences and to human resources being required - provided that everything is managed efficiently.

Finally, the massive cost of a new datacentre can be avoided - by going green, the reduced size of the consolidated hardware platform can extend the life of an existing facility by several years.

Green message

This short article has concentrated on demonstrating how basic green IT initiatives can deliver messages to the business to show how they can have a direct impact on the business itself. The same approach can be used for advanced and investment green initiatives - for example, a move to a community combined heat and power (CCHP) power generation system for an organisation with a very large datacentre can bring in revenues through selling excess heat and power to other businesses, local communities or through feed in tariffs from the government.

By attending to basic green initiatives first, savings can be made that can be shared with the business, with a proportion being ploughed back into advanced or investment green initiatives down the line.


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This was first published in September 2010

 

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