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greening your IT, for newbies or experts

greening your IT, for newbies or experts

At the end of my talk with IBM's John Lamb about his book, "The Greening of IT," and the state of green IT globally, I asked him to walk me through a little thought exercise.

In talking to companies both in the IT industry and beyond, I'm always struck by the range of levels of awareness about green issues in general and green IT in particular, so I asked John to do a quick rundown of the kinds of steps that he urges customers to think about taking when they look at green IT projects.

Starting with a company that's brand-new to this to the next step of a company that has done some level of green IT project and has got buy-in at a higher level, and then finally looking at what a company should do once all the low-hanging fruit is done?

John Lamb. John Lamb

Matthew Wheeland: So let's start with what's your first green IT project?

John Lamb: Well, the first thing is to get familiar with what's out there, and there's tremendous amount of areas that you can get into. Actually, I would just Google "green IT" and the like, and you've got all of these Uptime Institutes and all of these different areas that will give you a lot of information, including ASHRAE, all the engineering societies.

So the first thing is to get up to speed, and that's pretty easy. You can get on with... any electric utility will give you all sorts of information and, in fact, not only do they give you information, but they tell you about incentives that they'll give you.

PG&E in California is one of the biggest that you can actually get a lot of money back rebates from them for putting in energy-efficient [equipment]. And that brings up the question of why are the electric utilities interested in doing that?

For one thing, the Public Utilities Commission encourages them to do it, but the other is they really don't want to build anymore big power-generating systems. And so if they can cut down on that, they gain that way, too. So, just understand what's out there, understand the different areas that you can save in.

The greening of IT cover

And actually, if it's a company, [another first step is] to communicate these ideas, get everybody involved. That's the thing about green IT or green anything. We all have to collaborate, and most of the time I believe the employees will be very interested because they all know about that, they're all aware of it.

And then appoint someone who's responsible for that so they can drive this for the company, whether he's called an "Energy Czar" or someone that you can communicate across the country and everybody will be happy to help out.

MW: Then the next step, I guess, would be that you're up to speed on what's out there, and what's possible. You've got buy-in from the executives. So what would you recommend for the first or second project that a company would take on?

JL: Well, the second thing, then is to - and it's related to deciding on your green IT plans - is to baseline - to measure: What are you using right now? And with that some of the areas are, since you're replacing your servers and your laptops all the time to, "How can I consolidate and virtualize?" Virtualize is the hot topic now that - and it really is sort of a "back to the future," too.

So rather than have all these little servers all over spread in the departments and all, we've been bringing them back. But then not just bringing them back to the data center, but to consolidate; so take ten small servers and put them onto a bigger box. They still look like ten smaller servers, but they're all sharing the same resources and energy efficiency is great.

And so that would be it: Plan it out. You're already going to be replacing your servers every four years or so. Plan out how you can look at this and design this so that you can start saving energy.

And then although, I try to point this out, I'm an engineer by background, so I like to look at the chillers and the cooling systems and the whole thermodynamics, but that's also an extremely important thing to get the cooling systems -- get the whole data center optimized.

MW: And What is sort of a more ambitious project? Is it sort of reengineering the data center for cooling optimization or ...

JL: Well, of course, if you go all out and say, "Okay, I'm going to redo the whole data center," then, of course, you can put in a lot of other things. But I think once you've gotten quite an energy-efficient data center, I think the next thing you should do is, "How can I optimize that and make it automatic -- have energy systems that will optimize and bring back and tradeoff?"

And one of the things that's pointed out in the book, but it also makes a lot of sense is, because I used to be in IBM's real estate division, is: Buildings have had for a long time energy efficient systems where actually they can cool with bringing in outside air at certain times.

But what happens is the data center and the rest of the building are not combined - you've got two different management systems - so from an energy standpoint, combine them. So if you've got extra heat that you're going to air condition from the main part or the office part of the building and you can combine that with the heating or the cooling required for the data center.

Or let's put it the other way. You've got all this waste heat from the data center; rather than even use a chiller or throw it outside in the cold weather, bring it over to the rest of the building and use it to heat. You could think of it as sort of a big heat pump, taking it from the data center and putting it over to the office space.

So I think that is a big area that has a lot of opportunity to make the whole building a system and optimized on the building rather than just the data center.

MW: Great, John, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. The book is called Greening of IT, and you can find it on GreenBiz.com

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