How to use green IT without breaking the bank

The good and the bad behind going green

Most small businesses want to be environmentally conscious -- but probably aren't keen on investing in a lot of expensive upgrades. But going green doesn't have to break the bank, and in the long run it could end up saving money.

For smaller businesses that want to go green, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that a lot of green technology requires scale, said Aaron Hay, research consultant with Info-Tech Research.

A classic example is virtualization. If you have four servers and move them onto one virtualized server, you're going to save on power consumption and the environmental footprint of those four servers. But, obviously, a much larger business with hundreds of servers would make more of an environmental impact.

The good news is that the state of green IT is now such that a small business can grow in a sustainable way, which is something that up until the past two or three years has simply not been possible. "If they don't have a data center, they can build one that's energy-efficient, that has dedicated cooling and ventilation and maximizes the square footage and employs virtualization and logical storage techniques," said Hay. "There is an opportunity for small businesses to go ahead and do these things the right way."

Fortune 500 companies, on the other hand, have such a large installed base of computing infrastructure that it's going to take them decades to switch over to a greener IT environment.

There are also environmentally sensitive actions that small businesses can take without worrying about scale, such as recycling old computer equipment. Another way is to manage their printer fleet, such as removing the color cartridges in their photocopiers so they can only be used when absolutely necessary. And they can convert to a paperless office by rolling out some solid communications policies.

While small business owners are often concerned with up-front costs, spending an extra five or 10 percent up front could actually save you over the life of a technology, said Hay.

Rather than looking at just the up-front costs, figure out the cost of maintenance and supplies for the piece of equipment you're buying. "The lifecycle costing model may show you that an environmentally preferable purchase is of similar cost to something that's just a lowest-cost option," he said.

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