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Green IT mind shift taking hold, research shows

Energy-saving IT purchases and other green IT initiatives have grown in importance, according to CIOs and market research.

When $13 billion utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. embarked on a quest to replace hundreds of legacy applications with software from SAP AG and Oracle Corp., CIO Patricia Lawicki knew computing power would increase by 50%. Yet Lawicki told her team she "didn't want to draw another kilowatt of energy" into the data center for the project.

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Working with IBM and other vendors, Lawicki's team agreed to be guinea pigs for new energy-saving technologies, including a robotic device that measures energy consumption around the clock. The upshot: Computing capacity indeed increased by 50%, but the data center uses less energy than it did prior to the conversion.

The testimonials are everywhere: Data centers re-engineered to realize double-digit energy savings. Cubicle configurations adjusted to let in more natural light. Networked printers set to sleep mode when not in use. Telecommuters, no longer the pariahs of corporate culture, helping companies reduce their carbon footprint.

No question green IT gets a lot of lip service. Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. put green IT atop its 2008 list of 10 technologies that could disrupt IT or business in the next 18 to 36 months.

But are CIOs starting to walk the endless talk about green IT?

New data from Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., says yes -- with particular emphasis on starting.

According to the Forrester report, as of October, 38% of IT professionals said their companies use environmental criteria in their evaluation and selection of IT equipment. Just six months ago that number was 25%. Cast a look six months prior to that, and the current shift is dramatic: 78% had told Forrester that green IT was not written into their evaluation and selection criteria for IT systems and devices.

Another eye opener in Forrester's October findings?

"To my surprise and delight, doing the right thing showed up very strongly as a prime motivation," said Christopher Mines, lead author of the report. (See sidebar for more from Mines.)

Indeed, Lawicki said, energy conservation is critical to a company's success in California, and environmental responsibility is a core value at the San Francisco utility. "We need to eat our own cooking," she said in a recent interview.

Green, with a dollop of do-gooding on the side

Delight aside, Mines stressed the principal motivation for going green remains, well, green. "It's a cost-saving initiative with green on the side, if you like, for most firms," he said. "As I talk to folks in IT, if there is not a positive, tangible, cost-based ROI, these things tend not to happen."

Sound bytes
Listen to Forrester analyst Christopher Mines discuss primary motivations for going green.

Mines shares why you need to "break bread" with your facilities person and your finance people today.

Bill Yaman of PS'Soft Inc. talks about the relevance of IT asset management to green IT.

Vendors confirmed they are seeing an uptick in requests that include green criteria.

Bob Moore, group marketing manager for industry standard servers at Hewlett-Packard Co., said the Palo Alto, Calif.-based powerhouse is seeing "more urgency" on green IT, across a broad range of IT operations and assets.

"We can quantify some of this. Recycling is big for customers because HP has recycled over 1 billion pounds of electric components," Moore wrote in an email. Data center efficiency is a top priority, given brisk sales of the energy-efficient HP BladeSystem offerings, he said, pointing to an HP project at the Fife Public School District near Tacoma, Wash., where the technology helped reduce power costs by 25%, while doubling processing capacity. HP credits its energy-efficient processors and Thermal Logic technologies with helping to keep energy costs low.

Server virtualization is another oft-cited energy saver in growing use. The Fife school district will consolidate servers by more than 60%, from 55 to 20, Moore said; PG&E whittled 300 servers down to just six.

At the school district, green benefits are also being reaped from a "learning gateway" running on a new HP infrastructure and Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2003. Teachers across the district can share educational materials from their desktop, without using a copying machine, the postal service or paper.

Piecemeal, rather than according to plan

Feel-good stories notwithstanding, green IT is still far from ingrained, even at the large, sophisticated IT organizations, the Forrester study found.

Only 15% of firms told Forrester they have an "overall plan" for implementing green IT. But that, too, is subject to change, Mines said. About one-quarter of those surveyed said they are in the process of creating a plan, and another 39% are considering it.

With a plan in place, enforcement becomes an issue, said Bill Yaman, president, North American Operations, at PS'Soft Inc., an IT asset management firm in San Mateo, Calif. Decisions to go green typically are made at the highest level of an organization, Yaman has found.

"What then becomes a challenge for those organizations is ensuring that the buying behavior of everyone in the organization supports that decision," he said. "I could choose to have Dell be my provider of choice based on their green position in IT, but unless I can get the organization to very broadly adopt that, and only be buying that equipment, I actually haven't solved the problem." (See sidebar for more from Yaman.)

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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