Green IT: a marketing ploy or new tech?

What green strategy best suits your business?

Green IT is something of a chameleon that appeals to different users on different levels. From a 10,000-foot perspective, it's hard to knock the benefits of energy efficiency, recycling and vendors working side by side with users to promote the green agenda. However, many users are finding it difficult to adopt a technology that is not characterized by a wide selection of physical products that they can buy and implement in their IT infrastructures today.

In the absence of a mature green IT market, users such as PMI Mortgage Insurance and Cooper Communities are cobbling together green strategies that are saving them money without negatively impacting IT performance. Many of these strategies are based on internal development efforts, while a limited number are taking shape with vendor input. For now, it seems, going green mostly means going it alone, which leaves a big vacuum for vendors to fill with their emerging green IT marketing plans.

Greenwashing?

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at The StorageIO Group, a Stillwater, Minn.-based market research firm, takes a dim view of incipient green IT efforts, accusing vendors of "greenwashing" the market. "There's money in the green story," he asserts. "If you can make your story sell by making it sound green and appealing to that feel-good green aspect of the market, you're going to get money out of it."

Using storage as an example, Schulz cites Hewlett-Packard's June unveiling of its Adaptive Infrastructure offerings, which are described in a press release that starts out saying, "HP today introduced 'green' storage technology that can cut storage array power and cooling costs in data center by 50 percent."

HP's new offering includes thin provisioning and performance enhancements for the HP StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array family, tape drives based on the Linear Tape Open 4 standard, new DAT 160 tapes for small and medium-size businesses, and the first HP StorageWorks tape product developed exclusively for HP BladeSystem c-Class enclosures.

Schulz says the press release's focus on green is misleading because data is being moved from disk to tape, or to another tier without optimizing the products to consume less power. According to him, it's simply a shift to another technology, but it's touted as part of HP's green initiative.

Schulz acknowledges that virtualization can help reduce the number of servers, but he wonders if consolidating servers is really a shell game with no net benefits. "Here's the catch," he says. "If I go to 10 servers down to one, have I saved on power? Maybe. But does that server that I consolidate down to consume any more power than the other ones? It should, but is the ratio 10-to-1, 5-to-1, or 2-to-1?"

The bottom line rules

At this early stage in the green IT game, it's hard to make definitive statements, because strategies are still being formulated by vendors and users. This is highlighted by the results of a May 2007 Forrester survey of 124 IT managers and procurement professionals in North America and Europe.

The report, entitled Tapping Buyers' Growing Interest in Green IT, notes that while 85 percent of respondents said that environmental factors are important in planning IT operations, only one quarter said they have written green criteria into their companies' purchasing processes.

In the end, of course, it all boils down to the bottom line. As one survey respondent declared, "We would do green because it makes business sense, not because it's green. It would have to show cost savings."

The report's author, Christopher Mines, notes: "We heard two reasons why green matters: efficiency and corporate responsibility. Most IT decision-makers told us that a green purchase would only happen in the context of cost reduction. These are hard-headed, ROI-driven business decisions."

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