Oregon Deputy CIO Sean McSpaden says manufacturers will need to use more eco-friendly materials and packaging.

Where to Go Green

IT leaders identify five areas on which to focus your initial green computing efforts.

Driven by economics, compliance, organizational responsibility and operational imperatives, strategic engagements around green IT have noticeably escalated in the past three to six months, according to the 451 Group.

“Up until early 2008, none of the four drivers we identified were strong enough to drive tactical engagements on the subject,” says Andy Lawrence, research director with the 451 Group. “Green was overhyped.”

Not anymore. As innovative CIOs seize the opportunity to drive efficiency through technology, government green initiatives are coalescing from ad hoc activities into more structured plans with defined goals and set expectations.

State and city IT leaders share advice on where to focus to get started going green.

Adopt a Lifecycle Perspective

Start by comparing best value against PC and notebook lifecycles, from procurement to retirement and disposal.

“This best practice means involving vendors in a conversation that must go beyond what happens after you get the lowest price point for a product,” says Sean McSpaden, deputy CIO at Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services (DAS).

This is one program that DAS implements in support of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s vision of a sustainable government. The state’s Technology Refresh Committee, co-chaired by McSpaden and a state procurement office analyst, meets with computer manufacturers to understand their technical road maps and to establish standard configurations for desktops and notebooks that incorporate the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) Silver performance and Energy Star 4.0 specifications.

“The hallmark of our effort is a partnership between Oregon’s State Procurement Office, IT community and vendors. We meet to gather and share meaningful information about customer needs and how vendor products and services and pricing can best meet those needs across the next planning horizon,” says McSpaden.

Eco-friendly acquisition implies that manufacturers help manage the long-term strategy for retiring and disposing of the devices. “As a state, we want vendors to use more eco-friendly materials and manufacturing processes,” says McSpaden.

Oregon CIO Dugan Petty, who also chairs the National Association of State CIOs Green Forum, adds that DAS is working on a statewide desktop power management policy that will set standards for reducing energy consumption and IT’s carbon footprint at the desktop level.

“What’s missing today is the operational piece,” says Petty, noting that other than telling users to turn off their computers at the end of the day, there’s no set policy for desktop power management.

The buck doesn’t stop here, either. “When we think of lifecycle costs and power consumption in the future, that might mean reinstituting the notion of thin clients,” says Petty.

Consolidate Data Centers

When the state of Michigan closed 32 data centers in Lansing, it freed up a bounty of equipment for reuse at agencies with minimal resources.

“We also replaced older, power- hungry machines with devices that are more energy efficient and reliable,” says Patrick Hale, deputy director and state chief technology officer. Today, Michigan has three host centers with 3,000 servers and an additional 500 to 800 remote servers. Those numbers might sound hefty, but they reflect the retirement of more than 1,000 devices. “Fifty percent of the servers that were retired were running 24x7,” says Hale, who adds that the devices weren’t efficient, drained electricity and took up space.

Outlays for server maintenance, upgrades and facility costs were also eliminated. “That’s a lot of money in care and feeding of the data centers and devices,” he says.

Standardize on Blades

Seattle standardized by replacing standalone servers with blade servers. Using blade technology, Seattle can remove 14 physical servers and replace them with one physical box containing 14 blades. Today, says Bill Schrier, CTO for the city of Seattle, almost every server is a blade or a cluster as opposed to a standalone server.

Blades use less electricity. Deploying cluster servers where three or four blades function as one server, a server cluster can support a critical application and provide fail-over capability as well as load-balancing.

On top of the blade clusters, Seattle virtualized its server environment and can have 40 virtual servers running on a single server. The blades, the clusters and virtualization multiply the effective use of technology as well as green IT, says Schrier.

Embrace Server Virtualization

The city of Riverside, Calif., consolidated 220 physical servers to 75 using VMware, notes CIO Steve Reneker. What’s more, all new servers comply with the latest Energy Star 4.0 rating, which includes not only desktops and notebooks, but also servers that have a 30 percent power-reduction rating.

Server virtualization reduces Riverside’s hardware and energy costs. Riverside is one of nearly a dozen state, local and city governments that are taking part in the Climate Savers Computing Initiative to cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 54 million tons per year. According to Reneker, the city has saved about $1.2 million in hardware replacement costs since virtualizing its servers.

Institute a Purchase Policy

In 2007, the city of Phoenix earned the EPA Green Electronics Champion Award for adhering to EPEAT performance ratings when purchasing computers.

Since July 2006, the city has purchased more than 3,000 qualifying desktops and about 250 qualifying notebooks, reducing energy use by approximately 2,702,000 kWh — enough to power 238 households for a year, reduce greenhouse gases equivalent to removing 168 cars from the road per year, eliminate 8.6 tons of hazardous waste, avoid 538 pounds of toxic materials and save approximately $234,000, according to CIO Charles Thompson.

Adopting EPEAT purchasing standards may be going after the low-hanging fruit, but this initial best practice for organizations getting started with green IT is ripe in rewards.

Who’s in Charge?

Many C-level executives believe it’s time to create a position for corporate sustainability, according to a study from consultancy Hill & Knowlton. “In challenging times it’s critical to measure and prove that monies spent around green initiatives come back in terms of dollars and cents,” says Joshua Reynolds, global technology practice director at Hill & Knowlton. “Our conclusion is that the CIO is probably a logical choice for the chief energy officer position [many times called a corporate responsibility officer, or CRO] at this point since it’s the use of technology that will help to overcome some of these energy problems,” he adds.

In an effort to create energy sector jobs in the state, Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm last fall created the Chief Energy Officer position. While not directly related to the state’s IT department, there will be a peer relationship between the state’s CIO and CRO, according to Patrick Hale, deputy director and state CTO in Michigan.

Robbie McClaran
Jan 15 2009