Monday, May 26, 2014

Revisiting Green IT

It’s more than 20 years now from the first collective industry recognition (Energy Star ratings) and the desire to do something about reducing power consumption by IT equipment. The cycles of heightened awareness and hype coincide with economic cycles or at times a paradigm change brought about by new technology or use of existing technology like virtualization or cloud computing. So when one of the organizers asked me to talk about Green IT, I was perplexed on the unexpected resurgence; or was it a red herring or just a slot filler ?

Researching the market beyond personal experience to understand the current traction and prominence of Green IT, I started talking to CIOs to understand their journey or milestones on the subject; I was hoping to use some of the insights in my presentation to an audience of CIOs. Thus over the next few weeks the data points that I gathered did not focus on public or private clouds, but to understand if Green was still a discussion in different industries and industry leaders or has Green fatigue set in ?

Less than a decade ago carbon credits were a boardroom discussion and some people made a lot of money trading them; then they just vanished. Data Centers started touting Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) or Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency to demonstrate how Green they were. Overhead non-compute power usage for cooling and other uses ranged from typical 80% to highly efficient 10%. Power used by servers and computers for the same task has been reducing almost linearly over time challenging PUE.

CIOs finished fixing the data center quite early and also created efficiency for end compute devices with power management policies and improved awareness. From there on they focused energies on office infrastructure, ambient lighting and temperatures, electronic documentation, communication and as a result saved trees. A few also took control of energy usage monitoring with embedded and targeted sensors linked to BMS (Building Management Systems) and reduced power consumption in good measure.

The question is, with so much getting done and almost every enterprise reaping the benefits over the last decade, is Green still a relevant discussion ? Who if anyone is tasked with overall enterprise Green initiatives ? Is it only about controlling power used or creating a movement to conserve natural resources ? Is Green an integral part of decision making explicitly mentioned in evaluation parameters or implicitly used in every decision making ? Have people stopped flying around for meetings and embraced Video Conferencing ? The answer is Yes and No.

I don’t believe that CIOs are measuring and reporting metrics around Green. None of the CIOs I met did, but there is a discussion around power efficiency and overall cost of running BAU or keeping the lights on. CXOs are not enamored by earlier conventional solutions which are now basic hygiene as are new LEED certified buildings. Reality is that for technology and compute power, the bar keeps shifting every 4-5 years; what was green in 2000 or for that matter even 5 years back appears archaic when compared to currently available hardware.

At the conference the audience engaged in a discussion and debate on the relevance, challenges and opportunities; one of the participants sought suggestions to break the cultural vice around personal printers which gave his global centurion company a person to printer ratio of close to one. Someone shared extreme automation to switch off lights and air-conditioners when there was no movement resulting in hilarious and occasionally dark and sweaty situations while people were in the room working !

Green is here to stay and awareness of the new generation brings new opportunities. For CIOs it is important to seek avenues beyond the conventional interventions of the past. Cloud computing is shrinking the data center and mobility is driving the workforce out of offices. Power generation is focusing on renewable energy sources which reduce the global carbon footprint. Some of the power hungry enterprises are going to embrace these as the world works towards creating a better tomorrow.

The role you play in this evolution is up to you !

1 comment:

  1. I see a close analogy with the manufacturing industry. About 20-25 years ago, when the Toyota Production System, lean manufacturing and just-in-time were the rage, everyone was talking about minimizing inventory (just like we're talk about reducing energy consumption today).

    What happened? Did the importance of low inventory go away? Certainly not - it continues to be an important factor in improving efficiency and reducing cost of working capital.

    Two things happened:

    1. "Systems" improved to incorporate all the learning and automate inventory optimization.
    2. The burden of inventory optimization was fragmented and pushed down the supply chain, with initiatives like vendor managed inventory.

    The parallel to #2 in the green movement is that as computing becomes more distributed through social and technological changes (cloud, low power processors, work from home), it becomes less of a focus for the CIO. The example of personal printers cited above is a good one - the enterprise may reduce paper and printing dramatically, but there is no control over individual workers adding personal printers when they work from home.

    So I believe that the problem has been only partially solved by genuine increases in energy efficiency. But some portion of the problem has simply been broken up into pieces that are too small to collectively manage or monitor, and is therefore 'invisible'.