May 10 2008

Changing Your Hue From the Inside Out

It’s no revelation to anyone who deals regularly with information technology that green IT is a prevalent topic — one that encompasses many forward-looking, sustainable concepts.

But what compels agencies to delve into green IT? Sure, it sounds nice, and at the moment it’s popular with taxpayers. But that’s not enough to make going green worthwhile on its own merit. What’s important is that making IT more energy-efficient, and garnering the subsequent cost savings, reflects a sound business approach to agency management. Who, for example, could object to saving energy through virtualization and a reduction in the number of physical servers? Who would object to freeing up server space? Who would reject a lower electric bill or a reduction in total cost of ownership?

Do the Prep Work

Don’t get caught up in the romanticism of green. That’s the advice of the Food and Drug Administration’s Gary Washington, who believes consolidation and efficiency need to come first. “Once you make your footprint smaller, that enables you to move toward more of a green IT concept,” he says. “None of us has unlimited space to put things. After effectively addressing that aspect, we then have a sound framework upon which to build more of a comprehensive green IT program.”

FDA practices what it preaches, says Washington, who recently moved to a new agency assignment from his post as deputy division director for infrastructure. “We are virtualizing and centralizing. We’re cutting our number of servers in half by 2010.”

These moves aren’t labeled “green IT.” But that is a welcome by-product that results from reducing the server footprint and implementing technologies in a smart fashion, he says.

Do What Makes Sense

Efficiency through more strategic implementation of technology and enterprise-driven management practices prompts similar choices at every agency. And the administration’s push for more cross-agency collaboration and emphasis on working along lines of business also encourage — in some cases, demand — that agencies seek such efficiencies. The Environmental Protection Agency’s national computer center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., for example, continually pursues strategies for enhancing the value derived from its technology.

Most recently, the EPA’s IT team has partnered with the agency’s Energy Star buildings program and the Energy Department’s Save Energy Now program to evaluate the North Carolina data center’s energy performance and identify ways to maximize savings through more effective energy use.

“DOE conducted a detailed energy-management study of our data center’s energy consumption and power-and-cooling infrastructure and is evaluating that data,” EPA Chief Technology Officer Myra Galbreath says. “DOE will offer recommendations for improvements.” The idea behind this effort is that other agencies will be able to borrow from the EPA/DOE collaboration.

Don’t Worry About Labels

Agencies want to be more environmentally friendly and, partly in response to the public’s interest in these efforts, “have become more active in searching for opportunities to reduce cost, increase efficiency and reduce environmental impacts” in their IT programs, says Karen Evans, OMB administrator for e-government and IT.

“We don’t specifically have a category for green IT” in the Exhibit 300 documents that agencies submit to justify tech spending requests, she says. “We think the use of energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable techniques or practices is critical to all assets — not just IT.”

The lack of a distinct “green IT” category in the business case doesn’t matter, Evans points out. “We see this as good management; green IT extends the concepts we have been promoting for years.”

So here’s the bottom line for IT: Keep doing what you’re doing in trying to squeeze the most from each and every IT investment and, in the end, you’ll find that the silver lining is, well, green.


<p>Photo: John Welzenbach</p>