Green IT: In the Data Center and in the Board Room

Eight months ago, I made the case that green IT, the art and science of making technological infrastructures more energy efficient, was an emerging market that would yield some really interesting career paths. At the time, I cited a survey that said 77 percent of large enterprises either had green IT initiatives underway or were at least considering them. It’s a smart move considering the fact that the data center is usually the largest consumer of electricity in any corporate environment.

Now we have some new numbers from Forrester Research that show the need for green IT expertise. According to analyst Christopher Mines, “The first thing to make clear is that there is an opening in most companies for sustainability leadership. Less than a quarter of the companies in our worldwide survey base reported that they had a dedicated Chief Sustainability Officer or equivalent executive function.” Sixty-six percent of the global firms surveyed said, “We do not have a chief sustainability officer or other executive dedicated to planning and executing.”

That person could be you – or perhaps your boss – in years to come.

Luckily, when sustainability is being discussed in an enterprise, IT is likely to be leading the discussion, which is as it should be. In the survey, 44 percent said IT has a central role in both planning and executing sustainability initiatives. I wonder about the 14 percent who say IT plays no role in green IT. What are they thinking?

Mines makes the important point that broadly speaking, IT is experiencing a sweeping shift “from infrastructure to information.” What he means is that when it comes to green IT, we have to look beyond the physical layer of cooling systems and energy-efficient servers and focus on “aggregating, analyzing, and reporting the information that results from wiring up all those assets.” His suggestion: IT needs to hook up with colleagues in facilities, finance, operations, and HR, forging internal alliances that work together to tackle sustainability from every angle.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: green IT matters to the enterprise not because it helps to save the planet but because it helps to save money. You may be interested in the topic because you care about the future of the planet, but you can’t count on the CEO sharing your concerns. The top brass wants to improve the bottom line, which is what a sustainable enterprise can do, as long as everyone with a stake works toward that common goal.

The good news is that in today’s IT environment, virtually every cutting-edge technology¿all the things that you should be learning about right now¿can tie into green IT. Cloud-based software implementations, virtualization, remote access¿they all play a part in making the enterprise more efficient, so if you’re working on these kinds of initiatives you’re already part of the solution.

Just make sure you learn how to benchmark the savings. If you can consolidate ten servers into two virtualized servers, how many person hours will you save? How much energy, and therefore money, will you save? Techies sometimes joke that the more efficient they get, the more likely they are to streamline themselves right onto the unemployment line. The defense against that is to fashion yourself as the visionary, proving over and over again that you have an idea that can squeeze another x percent out of the IT budget.

To get up to speed on some of the basic green IT concepts, visit Dice’s resources on careers in green IT, our outline explaining how to make IT environmentally friendly, and our look at where the green jobs are.

–Don Willmott

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