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How Green Is Your IT?

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

Other hardware was replaced, including eight web servers. But while the T2000 was powerful enough to handle the work of four to five of the existing web servers, Ault didn’t want to take the risk of rationalising eight machines down to just two. The maths is simple. If one went down, half the company’s web capacity would be lost. So he installed four T2000s. The entire rationalisation programme delivered the promised £150,000 annual reduction in energy bills and a 400-tonne reduction in carbon emissions.

Beware of Greenwash

Yet as many IT managers are discovering, a project like Ault’s faces plenty of obstacles. Part of the problem is the sheer complexity of some data centres. A recent survey of 300 data-centre managers by Quocirca, in association with software firm Global DataCenter Management, found that more than a quarter of the respondents admitted to not knowing how many servers were under their control. More than 40%, meanwhile, said they sometimes found a server they didn’t know they had, or had looked for one only to discover that it had been retired.

And there are other factors holding back the greening of data centres. Cultural attitudes towards the urgency of reducing power consumption in IT vary. While Germany is a strong advocate of green IT, partly due to its high dependence on fossil fuels, it is a low priority in France where almost 80% of fuel is generated from carbon-free nuclear energy.

At a corporate level, while most companies have a CSR policy in place, not many give their IT managers the responsibility to address the situation. Less than a fifth of respondents to the survey said their data-centre managers have financial responsibility for their power consumption. While 44% said their companies have a formal carbon-footprint reduction policy, few pass the responsibility on to IT, often a firm’s major CO2 emitter. That’s either a major oversight or a case of “merely paying lip service to environmental issues,” concludes Quocirca.

Longbottom reckons CFOs should take heed. “Greenwash is going to become a major issue,” he says. “The press will focus on it and shareholders will look at it. If they find there are cracks in the strategy, they will jump on them.”

Eila Rana is senior editor at CFO Europe.

The Eco Itinerary

When it comes to green IT initiatives, “it’s a road where you should never arrive at your destination,” says Clive Longbottom, an analyst with IT research firm and consultancy Quocirca.

Just ask Matthew O’Neill, group head of distributed systems at HSBC, which is said to be the world’s first bank and the first FTSE 100 company to go carbon neutral in 2005. A year later O’Neill, who is responsible for HSBC’s IT services other than its data centres — including the bank’s desktop computer network, printers, mobile phones and any other technology used by staff — kicked off a series of small, self-contained energy-saving projects as part of the bank’s bigger programme to tackle the risks of climate change.

Among the initiatives was the introduction of “secure printing,” so that employees make photo copies by swiping their building pass through printers. “That removes the historic problem of printing and never going to collect your print jobs,” says O’Neill. He also helped introduce NightWatchman software, from a vendor called 1E, which automatically reduces the power used by idle desktops without losing unsaved work. The software is running on 75% of the bank’s 300,000 desktops and O’Neill is aiming to have it implemented across the entire company by the end of the year. Finally, in order to reduce the amount of air travel, video-conferencing facilities — ranging from desktop video-conferencing to “telepresence” studios — allow staff at various locations to meet around a high-definition virtual boardroom table. Employees who used the video-conferencing at HSBC’s headquarters in London’s Canary Wharf, rather than hitting the road or getting on a plane to attend a meeting, saved the company €390,000 and 185 tonnes of CO2 in one month alone.

The project has not been without challenges. Many of the initiatives are dependant on employees changing their behaviour, be it printing less, switching off a computer or deciding not to take a flight, which doesn’t happen overnight. “Most of the initiatives are simple steps that, if taken with the environmental impact in mind, can be hugely beneficial,” says O’Neill. “It’s really about raising awareness.”

The message is getting through. Since 2004, energy consumption per person at HSBC has decreased by 10%. But that doesn’t mean O’Neill is resting easy. He’s now contributing to a group-wide project to train 2,000 employees to be “climate champions,” who will then lead internal programmes to raise awareness.

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