At the Orange Business Live event last year, concerns over the economy meant that much of the interest in the Innovative Ways to Reduce your Carbon Footprint and IT Expenses session fell on the cost saving element, rather than on green IT and the benefits that it provides to the environment. As we have already noted, this is not necessarily a bad thing: many cost saving technologies have the benefit of cutting carbon emissions anyway, by improving efficiency and reducing unnecessary travel, even if this was not the original aim of the game. But with confidence beginning to return to global markets (Forrester Research stated "the technology downturn of 2008 and 2009 is unofficially over"), albeit with extreme caution in evidence elsewhere, green IT is again beginning to hold its own.
Green in the headlines
The environment was placed firmly back on the agenda in the dying days of 2009, thanks to the United Nations' COP 15 summit and, despite high-profile political wrangling which took place at the time, there is some indication that the Copenhagen Accord is finding acceptance globally. Despite calls from within the industry, ICT was low on the agenda, and the heated debate which took place elsewhere did not help, as attention was drawn to other issues. Gabriel Solomon, Senior Vice-President for Public Policy at the GSM Association, said that "my take is that the climate change folk just don't get the enabling role ICT can play...the sector is not a big polluter, so there are no obvious red flags" -- IDC identified energy generation & distribution, transport, buildings, and industry as activities with the greatest potential to reduce CO2 emissions. The GSM Association launched its own "Green Manifesto" during 2009, detailing the CO2 reduction plans of the mobile industry, and discussing how mobile communications technology can benefit in other industries.
Gartner analyst Simon Mingay was a little more optimistic, noting that the ICT industry was active behind-the-scenes, even if at the highest level attention was focused elsewhere. He argued that "the industry put itself in a position where it could be heard by the media, by other industries, and by the limited number of policy makers/influencers that had the time and inclination to listen. It was visible, vocal and engaged. Not as much as it could have been, not as effective as it could have been had it been speaking with more of a consolidated voice. But a step forward".
Green IT in the real world
Mingay also managed to bring the high-level debate at a UN conference into perspective for ICT professionals, for whom many of the discussions may have seemed interesting, but tangential. He argued that "any such policy related fiscal measures over the next five years will shape investments in ICT by organisations as we see the role of ICT increasingly being focused on energy and material efficiency".
Forrester Research noted that "looking back at the past three years of survey data on enterprise green IT adoption, it's clear that we are well beyond the fad or fashion stage". With this in mind, "green IT is well on its way to just becoming IT". Frost & Sullivan said that companies in the ICT sector are "actually paying more attention to environmental initiatives -- to save cost and improve competitive differentiation as well as enforce brand loyalty", although with tighter budgets and higher stakeholder expectations, "such initiatives need to demonstrate a positive ROI".
The focus of green IT initiatives is still largely the data centre, for very obvious reasons: data centres account for a significant amount of the energy consumption of an enterprise, which means they are (indirectly) the source of a significant amount of the CO2 emissions, and also a notable cost centre -- again, an instance of the green IT/cost cutting double-whammy. Frost & Sullivan noted that as well as reducing power consumption, a green data centre can also reduce associated costs, such as for cooling systems, and virtualisation can lead to a reduction in the total number of servers required, impacting cost and space overheads. But designing a green data centre can be an "arduous and expensive" task, and also includes a large capital expenditure -- and with businesses likely to remain cautious in the near future, it is not entirely clear that there will be an appetite for this.
Gartner has previously noted that data centre and IT managers are "not paying sufficient attention to the process of measuring, monitoring and modelling energy use in data centres", and that unless businesses begin creating accurate management dashboards, they will be unable to reduce energy costs and meet compliance requirements -- the European Commission has previously argued that standardised energy and carbon metrics are needed by businesses. The analyst firm said that while the topic has been on the agenda for some time, "many managers feel that they have to deal with more-immediate concerns before focusing attention on their suppliers' products". This means that even if suppliers can offer more energy efficient hardware or management tools, data centre and IT managers are "far more interested in internal projects like consolidation, rationalisation and virtualisation".