RELATED SIDEBAR: 5 Tips to Achieving an Energy-Efficient Data Center
Environmental Protection Agency, the energy consumption of the nation's data centers will exceed 100 billion kilowatt hours by 2011, ringing up annual electricity costs of $7.4 billion.
But some data centers hog less energy than others (see related article on Citi's LEED-certified facilities). And although most firms have ditched the unrealistic phrase "green IT" for the more practical (and perhaps deliberately vague) moniker "sustainable IT" -- sustainable in the sense of its impact on the environment and budgets -- they are achieving real efficiencies.
Wall Street firms are deeply engaged in virtualization, consolidation and other energy-efficient initiatives; they're even shutting down entire data centers, turning off servers and desktops when they're not in use, and keeping their trading floors cool and energy-efficient with virtual desktops. Such efforts are not only helping to keep energy bills in check, they're helping firms handle some of their biggest IT issues: diminished budgets, still-rising transaction and data volumes, reduced staff, and the requirement to do more with less.
"The benefit of sustainability is that from a hardware perspective it tends to be less expensive, and there's a great deal of value in that," says B. Gordon Green, VP of Bank of New York Mellon's technology services group. "Technologies such as lower-cost power supplies, more-efficient chips and blade servers have gone toward reducing overall hardware costs."
These efforts tend to start in the data center but spread to other parts of the IT organization. "IT sustainability is more than just data centers," notes Jim Carney, senior executive in Citi's technology infrastructure group.
"We look at data centers as the core of our infrastructure; in many of our energy-efficient initiatives the data center is the heart and soul of the organization," Carney continues. "But we also run a large desktop strategic initiative, in which we put thin clients on the desktop and bring desktop computing assets back to the data center. [And] we're giving employees the ability to work from home or at alternative locations."
In addition to following LEED recommendations in its data centers and consolidating its data center footprint from 52 sites in 2005 to 14 strategic centers and 10 satellites by 2010, Citi also has aggressive server and desktop virtualization plans that should help it meet its goal of an overall 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2011, Carney adds.
The single most effective action a firm can take to save energy is neither high-tech nor glamorous: Turn off (or put to sleep) servers that are not being used. "It's not fancy, it's not elegant, and it doesn't sell any hardware," points out independent technology consultant Neal Nelson. "It's a really boring, common-sense thing that will result in energy savings."
In fact a recent study from the University of Michigan found that technology that enables servers to nap when they're not busy could save 75 percent of the energy they consume. The researchers noted that data centers waste most of the energy they draw because they are built to handle peak processing demands.