Businesses tend to leave no stone unturned when planning IT infrastructure investments, spending significant time and effort predicting return on investment and total cost of ownership in order to minimise risk and maximise reward. But to some extent, major capital expenditure always represents something of a leap of faith. Buyers may have a broad understanding of how IT solutions are intended to perform and what they are designed to achieve, but the true benefits are often difficult to quantify until the post-deployment stage.
Where green IT is concerned, companies seem very often to stick with the status quo, rather than commit to the investment needed to reduce their energy usage. As Jim Bromley, compliance manager at ICEX stated, most firms are keen to become more environmentally friendly, but often unwilling to meet the initial costs associated with modernising their computing hardware. Executives want to reduce their carbon footprint and make energy savings, but are somewhat concerned about the short-term impact green IT will have on their budgets.
At present, such technologies do indeed cost more to deploy than standard hardware, if only because green IT remains a relatively niche area in the technology sector. With demand still relatively constrained, the market remains one viewed by vendors as being potentially, rather than immediately profitable. As such, there is not yet the fierce competition needed to drive down prices, and in turn, make low-carbon IT more accessible to those with smaller budgets.
But as Michael Shanks, chief technology Officer of Ultraspeed, explained, businesses need to look beyond the short-term impact on their balance sheet when considering green IT investment. He explained that – due to the capacity to significantly reduce power usage – the technology offers businesses the opportunity to make significant savings in the mid to long-term. So while capital expenditure can be higher than some firms are comfortable with, this is more than offset by the low cost of ownership. Virtualised servers for instance, which can increase server efficiency from 15 per cent to 90 per cent plus, may have sizeable up-front costs, but these are more than repaid after a few years. "If you plan accordingly and virtualise, you can use less equipment, less power and less cooling," Mr Shanks stated. "Consequently, this means total cost of ownership over a five year period can actually be less."
The question is whether businesses are able to look beyond the short-term impact on their finances when making technology decisions. Clearly, for firms with healthy cash reserves, it is easier to adopt the long-term investment strategy needed. But for those who are continuing to struggle in the wake of the recession, green IT may through no fault of its own remain some way down the list of priorities.
Even in such cases, companies can use green thinking to reduce costs and their impact on the environment. Mr Shanks explained that simply by embracing environmental best practice, it is possible for employees to make a small-scale difference. "Offices will want to take a more environmentally friendly approach by embracing the paperless office fully and discouraging staff, clients and suppliers from practices that are not green, such as printing out emails and sending paper invoices," he added. Mr Shanks noted that automation can be introduced to turn off equipment not in use at certain times of the day. Meanwhile, internal datacenters can be optimised to run more efficiently on warmer air. "But the most important shift will occur from taking a closer look at the IT equipment in operation, which consumes a lot of a firm's power," Mr Shanks stated.
Businesses can make a difference by re-shaping the attitudes of employees towards the environment, and instigating policies governing their use of resources in the workplace. As analyst firm Verdantix stated, green IT is just one – albeit a major – component of a business' sustainability strategy. Clearly, a degree of foresight and confidence in the potential benefits of low-carbon technologies are required to achieve significant cost-saving. But if both employers and staff start by recognising the benefits that energy efficiency can bring, allowing green issues to move to the centre of organisational culture, these larger-scale green IT investments will inevitably follow in time.