How Green Is Your IT Valley?

Sometimes, it depends on what your company's definition of "green" is. 

Sharp spikes in data center energy use have shocked IT executives to attention, fueling the drive for green IT. And yet, as an exclusive eWEEK reader survey shows, green IT is still in its early stages and is colored by ambivalence, even among those who are going green.

In an exclusive online survey of 337 IT professionals conducted by Ziff Davis Enterprise Editorial Research for eWEEK, only 34 percent of respondents reported that their company has a green IT initiative, as such. Of that 34 percent, only 7 percent have completed the initiative, 63 percent are in the process of implementation, and 30 percent are still in the planning stages. Conclusion: Green IT is still, well, rather green.

While the moniker "green IT" suggests environmentally friendly practices motivated by a desire to conserve natural resources, the label is often used to describe any efforts at IT economy-efforts that may, coincidentally, reduce demand for electrical power and the carbon emissions that typically go with it. With the green of eco-friendliness tied so closely to the green of money, it shouldn't come as too great a surprise that the two impulses are often conflated.

"Most organizations may choose to paint it green, but the reality is they're focused on saving energy and therefore money. And their willingness to cut CO2 emissions is significantly limited to their interest in cutting their electric bill," said Gartner analyst Simon Mingay.

Check out eWEEK's Guide to Green IT.

Rare is the company that spends extra to carry out an environmentally friendly practice-especially if a very lengthy payback period, or none at all, is anticipated. Companies that do, such as Google, which has launched a major solar power initiative to run its myriad servers, often look at extended payback periods. In Google's case, the payback period for its initiative is expected to be seven and a half years, even with hefty tax credits and electrical utility subsidies. And, in a best-case scenario, Google will supply only 30 percent of its power needs through solar energy.

Even so, greenness is seeping into IT operations everywhere-even among companies that do not have formal green IT initiatives-if only when new, more energy-efficient equipment replaces older gear in a normal upgrade cycle.

"Manufacturers are well-aware of the problem. The replacement cycle takes care of some [energy efficiency] every time a new wave of equipment comes in," said Laxmi Rao, IT energy coordinator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the eWEEK survey, 70 percent of respondents said they were either replacing or planning to replace old equipment with newer, energy-efficient gear.

The survey found that companies with green IT initiatives are implementing far greener technology of all kinds than those companies that have no specific focus on green IT. However, companies without a green initiative often wind up employing the same energy-saving procedures as those that do have such a formal initiative. Among the most prevalent technologies are server consolidation and server virtualization.

According to the survey, 74 percent of companies have consolidated or are planning to consolidate servers. Server virtualization is almost as popular, with 70 percent of respondents saying they have implemented virtualization or plan to.