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Green IT Gaining in Importance Globally

By Matthew Wheeland

May 27, 2009

Green IT is taking root, whether you’re looking at specific practices from power management to virtualization or taking a top-level look at corporate sustainability goals, according to a report released today by Symantec.

The company’s 2009 Worldwide Green IT Report follows on the release of the State of the Data Center report, a portion of which looked at how far corporations had come in specifically greening their data centers. The results at the time were par for the course: most firms were looking at green IT largely as a cost-savings tool.

No longer, according to Jose Iglesias, Symantec’s vice president of global solutions. “Perhaps in the past [green IT] was a wish-list item, it’s now essential for almost all the companies we surveyed,” Iglesias explained in a phone interview. More telling is that the survey found that budgets for green it have been rising: “Most IT budgets are declining or staying flat; so the fact that these numbers are rising is pretty remarkable,” he said.

The survey, conducted in March 2009, polled top-level employees at 1,052 large companies around the globe, and found some surprising — and surprisingly positive — results.

The first notable result is that budgets for green IT practices are on the rise. “One of the reasons that budgets are increasing is because the typical respondent is paying $21 to 27 million per year in electricity use,” Iglesias said, “so going after reducing the electricity consumption will pay for itself.”

In addition to the boost in green IT budgets, almost all respondents have begun discussing a green IT strategy — 97 percent said it was on their radar, and 45 percent of the companies in the survey had already put a strategy into action. The motivations for these projects were evenly split between cost savings and energy conservation, both with 92 percent of respondents ranking as important, and 86 percent put environmental responsibility as a key driver for green goals.

Much of this push is coming from above: 86 percent said the overall corporate environmental goals are moving IT departments to adopt green IT practices. In one one surprising figure from the report, 83 percent of respondents said that the IT department is responsible for all or part of the electricity bill at their companies; the split between facilities and IT — the two biggest energy users in most large companies — has long been cited as one of the key obstacles to widespread adoption of green IT policies.

The most commonly adopted green IT practices from the report are energy efficient power supplies (85 percent), multi-core processors (83 percent), energy efficient CPUs (82 percent), and virtualization and consolidation projects (82 percent).

But among the other widely reported practices companies are using to green their IT departments are power management and the adoption of cloud computing, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) projects.

Power management, one of the lowest-hanging fruits in corporate IT, was cited by 88 percent as important or very important; if the average company reports that 2,500 PCs are left on overnight on a regular basis, costing around $150 per year in energy use, that firm can save $375,000 a year with power management.

Iglesias said that the high numbers about SaaS — 57 percent considered cloud computing a green practice — were surprising to some extent, depending on the motivations for cloud computing. “Are they looking at it as a way to offload their power consumption from me to you, or do they see it as the right thing to do from an industry standpoint, going to people who specialize on a capability?” Iglesias asked.

Overall, the most promising finding from the report is the erasing of geographic differences in adoption of green it. Whereas a year ago, there would have been a significant split between North American adoption and Europe, for example, with the new report, there is almost no difference in how seriously companies are taking their green IT responsibilities.

Iglesias chalked it up to four factors: the steady fluctuation in energy prices over the course of the last year, when oil hit $150 per barrel while corporate data centers hit a wall on energy availability; the change in administrations in the United States, where President Obama has demonstrated a willingness to tacking all types of environmental issues; the looming discussions in Copenhagen, Denmark for the next iteration of global climate policy; and the simple fact that a crisis — whether economic, environmental, or both — offers an opportunity to overhaul the usual way things get done, leading to a willingness to embrace new practices.

The full report is available for download from GreenerComputing.com; more details are online at Symantec.com.