Sustainability: Green IT

A sustainable approach to IT

Sumir Karayi, CEO of IT efficiency specialist 1E, discusses the ways in which businesses can reach a greater level of IT efficiency.


Information technology professionals have traditionally been focused on keeping up with the latest and greatest innovations, whether that’s virtual desktops, remote working or the cloud. However, organisations are starting to realise that implementing a ‘greener’ approach to IT is becoming an increasingly dominant issue. Consumers are more aware than ever of environmental issues and the need to reduce their individual carbon footprint; similarly, an organisation’s brand reputation can benefit hugely from sustainability initiatives. Sustainability now forms a crucial part of many aspects of a business, from recruitment to marketing and winning new customers. Certainly, a sustainable IT strategy plays an important part in reducing an organisation’s carbon footprint.  

Due to the dramatic evolution of information technology equipment over the past few decades, handheld devices can now do the same things once only achieved by core mainframes. Other elements such as server cores, memory and capacity have also undergone much needed improvements. These technology advances mean that barely a week goes by without the launch of a newer, shinier piece of kit.

Unfortunately, the perceived need for the newest technology has created an endemic of waste in today’s IT environment. Globally, organisations will spend more than $8 trillion on IT (both new products and ongoing maintenance) in the next five years, according to analyst predictions. That is almost double China’s reported annual GDP. The knock-on effect is that spending more money often means increasing your carbon footprint too. Over its lifetime, an average server will use three times its original cost in power and cooling alone.

To make matters worse, traditional systems management tools mirror IT’s top priority of innovation and looking forward. This means that IT professionals rarely, if ever, have the luxury of fully understanding their IT environment past and present before making purchasing decisions for the future. Many organisations invest in new technologies (the newest operating system, the latest version of Office, countless virtual servers) without fully tapping their existing infrastructure. The result is an abundant mêlée of waste ranging from an array of ‘shelfware’—the term attributed to unused software—to an excess of unused servers in data centres.

Before investing in new technologies, however, organisations need to evaluate their existing infrastructure and determine what is actually providing business value or even simply what is being used. Becoming more sustainable can often be achieved by becoming more efficient. For an organisation to reach a greater level of IT efficiency, five primary questions must be addressed:

1. What is being used? This question strikes fear into the heart of many IT professionals. Whether this question is asked about software, PCs or servers, many IT professionals don’t know how to accurately find the answer. This leads to IT waste—which is costly and can be avoided.   

2. When is it being used? Technology is not always a 24/7 need. On average, 50 per cent of office PCs are left on overnight and on weekends, wasting $2.8 billion per year in the US alone. Beyond energy efficiency, each corporate PC has an average of $400 worth of unused software licenses sitting on it—reclaiming and reallocating these leads to further cost savings.

3. Is it generating business value? The servers commissioned to run enterprise-wide risk management software are certainly being used to meet important security and compliance demands, but studies have shown that 15 per cent of servers are not doing useful work, leading to $25 billion worth of waste. These servers are therefore wasting energy unnecessarily. The trick is that finding these servers can be a challenge, especially if organisations are relying simply on utilisation measures as useless servers can often look ‘busy.’

4. Can it be centralised? A more centralised IT infrastructure can create major cost and carbon efficiencies. Just think—centralising IT can reduce the number of servers required to support the business. For example, branch office servers used for software patching and operating system deployments in a large distributed environment can be eliminated—to save space, power, cooling and capex costs—in favour of software solutions that optimise network bandwidth to transport this data quickly and securely across the WAN.

5. Can it be automated? Each user request to the IT helpdesk costs $40 on average, totaling $8 billion every year in the US and UK alone—automating this would eliminate that cost.

Making your current systems as efficient as possible will always be more profitable than investing in new innovations. Rethink your IT priorities and processes—determine if your hardware is actually doing something useful, what software is being used, what energy is being spent on IT, which tasks can be automated or centralised—and you can save large amounts of money, dramatically reduce your energy consumption and become a more sustainable company. Once you have gained all possible efficiencies from your previous investments, you can then look to implement new energy-efficient technologies.

There is a tremendous opportunity for companies to become more sustainable simply by implementing a more efficient approach to IT. Today, there are technologies that can provide organisations with a new view of their IT infrastructure to give actionable insights into how efficiently it is being used and how effective it is to critical business needs. This data helps eliminate guesswork and gives organisations something tangible to can act upon. Rampantly spending on the latest, hottest and most wanted devices, whether it be a PC that uses less energy, or the most efficient server yet, is untenable and creates a false economy. Focus first on the efficiencies that can be gained from existing IT assets. Doing so will help conserve energy, reduce your carbon footprint and eliminate excesses, as well as avoid the significant added cost of properly disposing of retired hardware.