Green IT: Popularity Due to Savings or Morals?

It's fashionable to try to turn the notion of environmentally friendly computing into a morality play.

But it's more likely that eco-IT will take off because of its potential for cost savings and because new tech gear usually has some environmental component anyway, whether it's energy or space savings features or something else, said presenters and attendees at Computerworld's Infrastructure Management World (IMW) conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, this week.

In an informal poll of the 200-plus attendees at the show, fewer than a dozen hands went up when asked whether the notion of green IT is a fad. More than 90 percent raised their hands when asked if the idea of environmentally friendly computing is a reality.

This maps to research done by Jed Scaramella, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "Green IT is a foregone conclusion; it will be part of your next data center," he said.

If nothing else, Scaramella said, energy costs require IT to take a hard look at green technologies. Ten years ago, around 17 cents out of every dollar spent on a new server went to power and cooling. Today, that's up to 48 cents, and if things don't change, that number will eventually grow to 78 cents, according to IDC.

Home mortgage company Fannie Mae, formally known as the Federal National Mortgage Association, built the first data center in the U.S. that was certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The building industry's U.S. Green Building Council created the LEED rating system.

Fannie Mae's Urbana, Md., data center, which opened in 2005, recycles water, accommodates bicycles and electric vehicles, and has an air-quality system that removes many harmful chemicals and doesn't let them re-enter the building, said Brian Cobb, senior vice president for enterprise systems management and IT at Fannie Mae and a presenter at IMW. Air from the copier rooms is vented directly outside, he added.

"In IT, we have a responsibility to be as efficient as possible," Cobb said. "But we were able to get our [LEED] certification without having to compromise on availability and systems quality. So now I'll always make sure to consider the green component. That doesn't mean we'll always land on it, but I'll always put it in the mix."

Although he didn't have specific figures available, Cobb said the additional costs of building a green data center vs. what Fannie Mae would have spent on a more traditional building were in the "low single digits."

Another customer said he recently had a much different type of green experience.

A few months back, aviation parts supplier Aviall Services Inc. in Dallas was looking at whether it would need another cooling unit in its 3,500-square-foot data center. Heating problems meant that floor temperature was at the optimum 64 degrees Fahrenheit, but seven feet up -- at the top of a server rack, in other words -- the air measured a too-warm 79 degrees, said Jeff Dill, senior manager of technical architecture.

"We called our cooling system rep, and he said we should have 28 vented tiles in a data center of our size," Dill said. The facility actually had around 75 of the panels, "so we went in and covered up around 40 panels," he said, and the cooling problems were solved.

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