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Why green IT is good for business

Robert L. Mitchell | Oct. 22, 2013
As these companies have discovered, when IT projects focus on operational efficiency, sustainability benefits usually follow.

Another underappreciated strategy is to set up instrumentation in the data center that lets administrators monitor and manage both temperature and power use. Most IT organizations still don't do this, according to Gartner. Schonberger advises building a business case for this by tracking the half-dozen pieces of equipment that are your company's biggest energy consumers. "It doesn't save you any money, but it allows you to prioritize," he says.

Saving Green With Alternative Energy
Only after an organization has analyzed and instrumented its data center, eliminated redundancy and re-engineered to squeeze the maximum efficiency out of its IT infrastructure should alternative power come into play. First National of Nebraska became one of the first organizations to power a data center entirely on fuel cells when it built a new data center more than a decade ago. But when it was time to order new fuel cells this year, it was able to cut the power requirements from 600 to 400 kilowatts because management of its data center infrastructure had improved.

The operating cost, at 12 cents per kwh, is almost double the 6.2 cents First National's utility would charge. But First National had designed the building to use the waste heat from fuel cells to warm its interior and melt snow on some outdoor surfaces in the winter. Fuel cells also provide a very stable power supply and meet management's goals of using renewable energy, Cole says. But, he says, "if we were building the data center today, it would be a more difficult business decision."

FedEx uses solar and fuel cells in other facilities. But after considering solar, wind and fuel cells during the design phase for the Colorado Springs data center several years ago, it decided to pass. Of those technologies, fuel cells looked the most promising. The cost of power from fuel cells couldn't match utility rates, but the business was more concerned about the availability of commercial utility power than the economics, says IT director Brad Hilliard. What killed the idea was the location of service, which at that time was concentrated on the East and West coasts. Today, however, the technology and associated support infrastructure is more mature. Were he reconsidering that decision now, Hilliard says, "We would spend more energy on that because that local utility risk is so important to manage."

Fuel cells can be very efficient for data centers because the waste heat they generate can be used to cool the facility when fed into special absorption chillers. But from a purely economic standpoint, you still need fiscal incentives, such as tax breaks, to make them a viable business proposition, says Gartner's Mingay.


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