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How Green Is Your IT?

If you don't know the answer, drop in on one of your data centres.

For Andrew Griffith, CFO of British Sky Broadcasting, the £4.5 billion (€5.7 billion) FTSE 100 media company 39% owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, giving the green light to a new data centre wasn’t as straightforward at it once was. Although the need for additional data storage capacity was a strong indication of Sky’s promising growth trajectory, building a high-end, electricity-greedy data centre would ramp up its carbon emissions — something Griffith couldn’t countenance. As part of the Bigger Picture — Sky’s corporate social responsibility programme — the company had committed itself to reducing CO2 emissions by 10% from 2003 levels to 51,032 tonnes by 2010. “We’ve been reducing our environmental impact since 2002,” says Griffith. “In fact, we’ve cut our carbon emissions by 27% in the last three years alone. We do this because it’s the right thing to do — we share our customers’ concerns about the urgent need to address climate change.”

The programme puts the idea of green IT centre stage. In aiming to slash its energy consumption, Sky sees its IT operations as playing an important role in the effort. Given that the IT industry as a whole is responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions — the same amount as the aviation industry — that makes a lot of sense.

Sky is not alone. A growing number of companies are drawing up green initiatives for procuring, operating and disposing of IT assets and processes, say tech experts at Forrester Research, which predicts that corporate spending on green IT services will increase to €3 billion in 2013 from €320m today.

This is all good news for CFOs. With environmental awareness at an all-time high, Phill Everson, a partner with Deloitte, says, “the green agenda is another lever that the CFO can use to get the efficiency he or she demands.” It’s also a way of getting the subject of IT infrastructure onto the boardroom agenda.

Centre of Attention

Companies are addressing green IT in a number of ways. Some have an arsenal of initiatives to roll out new environmentally friendly desktop tools (see “The Eco Itinerary” at the end of this article), often enlisting the services of third parties for help with specific office equipment, such as printers and photo copiers. (See “Effort of Duplication.”) But the area where companies like Sky reckon green IT initiatives can make the greatest impact — and where most vendors are focusing their efforts (see “What’s on the Market?”) — is in their data centres.

This is an obvious choice given how data centres have mushroomed. Business growth demands more IT equipment, and with hardware prices falling over recent years companies have been cramming more servers into their data centres. Now they are running out of space, and building new centres demands huge capital expenditure. What’s more, the annual cost of running a server is now higher than the server itself. Adding to the problem, servers running a single application often sit on standby for much of the time, consuming electricity while doing nothing. Amid rising energy costs, that’s costing companies too much. “Nothing hurts a company more than when it feels its cost base going up,” says Clive Longbottom, an analyst with Quocirca, an IT research firm and consultancy.

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