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Thought Leader Interview: Corban Lester on Green IT

By June 5, 2014June 29th, 2014Articles

Corban Lester Corban Lester is a project developer for Ameresco, an international energy services company. Until recently, he was a program development manager for Lockheed Martin.  Corban performs data center energy audits and modeling, and led Research & Development for sustainable IT and data center solutions, and developed measurement & verification.  He is also a vice chairman at The Green Grid Association, an international organization dedicated to advancing resource efficiency in information technology. He has written technical white papers on IT and data center energy efficiency for utilities on behalf of The Green Grid and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and is a sought-after speaker on sustainable IT in the US.

EAPJ: How do you define Green IT?
Green IT is a discipline that examines and optimizes IT equipment, its supporting infrastructure, and the processes used to create, operate and destroy these systems across their lifecycle.  Information technologies and practices evolve at different rates, keeping consumers confused as to what Green IT really means. A truly Green IT solution is comprehensive in nature, however, and involves modernization such as virtualization and power management, plus energy efficient IT equipment selection, as well as energy efficient infrastructure like cooling and power distribution equipment. It also includes business process elements such as long term energy tracking at the data center level, down to individual system components, a plan to regularly analyze and act on data measurements, or a procurement process that factors in Total Cost of Ownership including energy consumption and lifecycle costs such as disposal.

EAPJ: Why should the typical IT organization, or the broader enterprise that it serves, be concerned with Green IT?
CL: Green IT involves developing a sophisticated understanding cost efficiency and modernization—factors which should interest every organization. Modernization and cost efficiency, when properly adopted and where accomplishments are properly measured and credited, facilitate high functioning organizations which can be ever more competitive.

Customers are increasingly interested in purchasing from or working with an environmentally responsible company—and IT is not excluded from this. Many are now aware that IT and data centers consume about 1.5-3% of global electricity, so IT’s contribution to corporate sustainability is rarely insignificant. In some cases, customers are even willing to pay a premium to buy from a credibly sustainable supplier. In other cases, regulation which seeks to constrain corporate energy consumption or carbon footprint can be a strong reason to be concerned about Green IT. In regions such as EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa], a code of conduct with a more prescriptive and potentially punitive approach to driving Green IT adoption is in place.


EAPJ: What about organizations that outsource their IT infrastructure to a service provider via cloud-based services, or more traditional managed services?  Why should they be concerned with Green IT?

CL: In a colocation or cloud contract, the cost of storing and operating IT equipment is often more transparent—many colocation companies even sub-meter their tenants and charge them for power. At a minimum, rack and raised floor space has a cost. In that arrangement, making choices which reduce equipment and reduce energy waste has a tangible impact on the financial reports that management sees every month.

Recent research has shown that data center, colocation and cloud service providers are doing a better job than enterprise data centers of tracking and reporting energy and other operations and maintenance performance. The reason for this is likely that they are more accountable for cost performance. If enterprise data centers and the individuals who create and run them are to remain competitive with service providers, they must start seriously preparing to track and report cost performance data for their facilities.   Coincidentally, these activities are a gateway to Green IT since they prepare organizations to improve areas of poor performance and better manage long term waste.

EAPJ:  IT organizations must carefully allocate both their resources and the attention of their leaders and skilled professionals in order to serve businesses that expect a lot of them.  How should an organization evaluate and prioritize Green IT opportunities against typical operational improvement initiatives, such as increasing the velocity and quality of solution delivery and cutting costs through means such as outsourcing and supplier management?

CL:  Just because resource consumption isn’t immediately apparent to an IT organization doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, doesn’t have a cost, and isn’t a barrier to something they care about. There are options available within nearly every technology and process area of IT which are also more energy efficient, more sustainably produced or recycled, and with performance equal to or better than standard practice items. The fact is that power, water and diesel fuel cost money, and data centers are designed around a finite capacity to deliver services which ties back to consumption. Since so many efficient and high performing options exist for IT organizations, one has to assume that inefficient equipment is selected out of ignorance. By integrating Green IT in to an organization’s practices, the best value solutions in both near and long terms are best understood and managed. This is fundamentally compatible with the practice of systems architecture.

EAPJ:  How should an IT organization, particularly one with limited resources, get started with Green IT?  What initial activities and goals would you recommend?
CL: Most IT organizations and data centers have a few key technology opportunities that could be considered “low hanging fruit” with project payback periods of 3 years or less, even for brand new facilities. The way to get started is to benchmark a site, a room, or even an application. Compare its age and direct and indirect costs against other sites in your organization, your organization at a different point in time, similar or competing organizations, or a national average. The most basic benchmark is Power Usage Effectiveness or PUE, which is the ratio of total facility energy consumption to IT equipment energy consumption.  PUE measures the efficiency data centers in delivering energy to computing equipment.

I recommend that all data center operators seriously investigate air side economization, which is directly cooling a data center with outside air, and is also known as free cooling. The bang-for-the-buck is very high, and yet few data center operators take advantage of it. The Green Grid has a free guide with maps that show how much free cooling can be reasonably achieved per year based in each region of the world, and they have a simple calculator tool which illustrates the financial benefit. Although it may seem counterintuitive to people in warmer or humid climates, outside air cooling is realistic and cost effective in most of the world.

EAPJ:  How should an IT organization measure the performance and value of its Green IT initiatives?
There are tens of software vendors who would be thrilled to outfit you with a or data center infrastructure management or DCIM tool suite to do that very thing. Starting with the very basics and getting your data center sub-metered, getting regular readings from your UPS, and getting energy reports from your network and client management software are all great ways to collect this data. Once you start collecting data, the hard work of rationalizing utility spend against business operations using metrics such as records, financial transactions or web page requests processed. EBay has accomplished this in perhaps the most dramatic and instructive way with their Digital Service Efficiency Dashboard, which presents the efficiency of their buy and sell traffic in URLs per kilowatt-hour. Every organization could do something like this and benefit immensely from the exercise, even if the scope is limited to part of the organization.

 EAPJ:  How do Green IT adoption rates and practices differ around the world?
CL: North America once was a leader, but Latin America, EMEA and Asia are showing both more growth and more commitment to resource efficiency, according to research from the Uptime Institute.

EAPJ: Where can EAPJ readers go to find more information about Green IT?
CL: The best place is The Green Grid, which is a global consortium of data center operators, IT organizations, equipment manufacturers, academics and utilities. They have a substantial body of publicly available knowledge and tools related to Green IT.


Green IT Papers by Corban Lester Available Online


Understanding and Engaging Utility Incentive Programs

Understanding and Engaging Utility Incentive Programs

Green Carrots: Incentive Programs and the IT Industry

Defining Efficiency in a Rapidly Changing World: Specifications and Incentives for High Performance Data Centers and High Efficiency IT





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