CDW: Green Makes a Comback

Arthur Cole spoke with Mark Lafferty, director of strategic solutions and services for CDW, about data professionals' renewed interest in investing in energy-saving technologies the coming year.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Nov 16, 2010
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Ways software can be used to improve overall data center energy use.

Arthur Cole spoke with Mark Lafferty, director of strategic solutions and services for CDW, about data professionals' renewed interest in investing in energy-saving technologies the coming year.

It looks like green is back in among data professionals following a distinct waning of interest last year, according to the latest report from CDW. The firm marked a distinct rise in plans to invest in energy-saving technologies in the coming year, ranging from LCD monitors, low-power silicon and other technologies. CDW's Mark Lafferty walks us through the data.

Cole: It's surprising to note in your latest survey that energy efficiency saw an increase in interest among data center executives following a dip in 2009. What do you think was responsible?

Lafferty: There is always market interest in reducing energy costs as a share of the IT budget, and in improving overall IT efficiency – effectively increasing services and capacity delivered per budget dollar. Making changes, though, takes time and money to evaluate alternatives, settle on a plan and implement it.

Our view of the 2009 results is that they were significantly influenced by the impact of the economic recession, which forced many difficult decisions on budget and staffing in many IT organizations. Many of the customers that we work with were challenged in 2009 just to maintain support services and scheduled hardware refreshes, let alone do a thoughtful job of reconfiguring to optimize their energy use or make any other changes with long-term benefit. To use a crude analogy, if a patient presents with a broken bone, the doctor worries about their high cholesterol later – and IT budgets were hurting in 2009.

In 2010, we have heard anecdotally from customers and read in the press that IT budgets have bounced back at least part of the way to pre-recession levels. Consistent with that, we are seeing greater interest among our customers in energy efficiency and other strategic projects than we were seeing a year ago.

Cole: It also seems odd that the top five energy-efficient changes included LCD monitors, low-power processors and energy management, but not virtualization. Has the hardware consolidation phase run its course?

Lafferty: The question to which you refer specifically addressed discreet measures at the device level, because one of the trends we track with CDW's Energy Efficient IT Report is how energy efficiency objectives are influencing customer selections at that granular level. Therefore, we asked organizations that already have defined energy efficiency programs in place to indicate whether their programs include options like LCD monitors and PCs or servers built around low-power processors, among others.

The hardware consolidation phase is far from over, and virtualization continues to be a primary consolidation measure as well as a great option to reduce energy use while lowering hardware and operating costs. In fact, consolidation and virtualization are such ongoing trends that we asked a separate question about them. Consolidation is, of course, a more complex initiative than just changing equipment specifications, and it serves multiple objectives. We thought it was significant that reducing energy consumption was statistically just as important a driver behind consolidation as reduction of hardware, software and management costs.

In fact, virtualization is listed as the most widely used consolidation strategy, with 63 percent of respondents listing the virtualization of servers and/or storage and 61 percent listing server consolidation. Several respondents commented that they believe virtualization is the most efficient solution for data center consolidation and reduction of energy consumption.

Cole: Budgetary pressures emerged as one of the key impediments to greater use of energy-efficient technology. Do you think green systems are destined to always cost a premium?

Lafferty: That's a very interesting question, and certainly there are widespread perceptions that newer, more energy-efficient equipment will cost more than older, less efficient models of comparable products – and there are cases of that, if one compares rigorously. But we put the same question to respondents, and only 17 percent said they believe the cost of energy-efficient IT equipment is prohibitive.

Your choice of the word “systems” is important here, because energy efficiency – as we see in the consolidation discussion – does not always involve one-for-one replacement of equipment, so the comparison of costs between devices is only a small part of the picture. It may mean elimination of equipment and associated costs or, within the data center, reconfiguration of racks and cooling, among other things. Energy efficiency always comes at some up-front cost, but in many, many cases it repays those costs quickly and delivers a handsome ROI.

Organizations that have or are developing programs to manage and reduce IT energy use have seen significant reductions in their IT energy costs. The city of Chesapeake, VA, for example, chose to deploy 84 virtual servers in its data center – increasing the longevity of its hardware, maintaining data center operations in the same physical space and conserving budget dollars. Immediately, the city realized energy cost savings of $3,000 a month (50 percent), as well as an annual hardware cost savings of $200,000. With such potential to save through energy efficiency, it truly costs more of a premium to ignore available new technologies.

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