IT admins should also think green

Factoring sustainability implications into the IT decisions you make each day

"Plug data leaks" and "Embrace Web 2.0" are among the pieces of practical wisdom shared this week by InfoWorld's Dan Tynan in an article titled "Seven things IT should be doing (but isn't)." It's a sound list, to be sure, but I believe there's an important omission. For the sake of your company's bottom line, its legislative peace of mind, its CSR (corporate social responsibility) standing, end-user morale, and yes, the planet as well, No. 8 on the list should be "Think green."

Now when I urge you as an IT admin to "think green," I certainly don't mean donning your Birkenstocks and hemp sweater for work each day (though if you want, by all means go for it. Just peruse your company dress code policy first). Rather "Think green" means factoring sustainability implications into the IT decisions you make each day. That is, ask yourself how your next IT maneuver might not only achieve your other job objectives and save money -- but also cut waste, lower energy consumption, and generally reduce the negative impact your company has on the environment in the form of carbon emissions and e-waste.

Why bother, you might ask? If no one is telling you directly to run a greener IT shop, what's in it for you? Well, for starters, as I noted above, green projects can often result in cost savings, and finding ways to reduce spending it a great way to make yourself stand out among your peers. Additionally, identifying opportunities to reduce your company's environmental impact is a good way to get a jump on the task. It's a safe bet that your company will eventually jump aboard the green bandwagon, driven by pressure from investors, partners, and/or government legislation to reduce CO2 emissions and e-waste and be a more eco-friendly organization.

To better illustrate how you might go about applying the "think green" mantra to your IT admin duties, let's contemplate some scenarios. Consider, for example, the task of refreshing your end-user's computers. Rather than simply purchasing the (seemingly) least expensive PCs and monitors that meet your needs, what if you were to pause a moment and contemplate the green ramifications of the purchase. For example, you might consider that laptops require less power than PCs and monitors -- and that Energy Star-compliant laptops are among the creme de la creme of power efficiency. That alone would mean lower energy bills for the company, not to mention a reduction in carbon emissions.

But what if you took a step further and, say, determined you would only purchase machines that meet or exceed the basic criteria of the US Green Electronic Council's EPEAT rating system, meaning they complied with Energy Star as well as ROHS requirements -- and were perhaps also built for longer life and easier upgrades. The payoffs would include not only the aforementioned reduction in power costs and CO2 emissions, but also money saved from a prolonged hardware-refresh cycle and CSR points for superior environmental stewardship.

You could even take your green thinking a step further as you refresh users' desktops and contemplate thin clients as an alternative, wherever they might fit in. They have the potential to reduce power consumption even further than laptops.

Now suppose after refreshing your users' desktop systems, you realize it's time to deploy tools for easier backup and system patching. Sounds like a potentially sound investment for the sake of security and business continuity. But what if you also pause to, yep, think green again. You might follow the example of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools: In addition to purchasing licenses for BigFix asset and patch-management software, the district paid a bit extra (US$2 per license) for the BigFix PC power management component, which is designed to put machines into low-power idle states when they're not being used, thus cutting energy waste. The impact is potentially huge. The district, for example, expects to save at least US$2 million per year for its 80,000 machines (US$25 per unit) thanks to PC power management.

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